Valley formation on martian volcanoes in the Hesperian: Evidence for melting of summit snowpack, caldera lake formation, drainage and erosion on Ceraunius Tholus
Ceraunius Tholus, a Hesperian-aged volcano in the Tharsis region, is characterized by small radial valleys on its flanks, and several larger valleys originating near its summit caldera. All of these large valleys drain from near the lowest present portion of the caldera rim and down the flanks of the volcano. The largest valley debauches into Rahe Crater (an oblique impact crater), forming a depositional fan. Recent study of climate change on Mars suggests that many low-latitude regions (especially large volcanic edifices) were periodically the sites of snow accumulation, likely triggered by variations in spin orbital parameters. We apply a conductive heat flow model to Ceraunius Tholus that suggests that following magmatic intrusion, sufficient heating would be available to cause basal melting of any accumulated summit snowpack and produce sufficient meltwater to cause the radial valleys. The geometry of the volcano summit caldera suggests that meltwater would also accumulate in a volumetrically significant caldera lake. Analysis of the morphology and volumes of the largest valley, as well as depositional features at its base, suggest that fluvial erosion due to drainage of this summit caldera lake formed the large valleys, in a manner analogous to how valleys were formed catastrophically from a lake in Aniakchak caldera in Alaska. Moreover, the event which carved the largest valley on Ceraunius Tholus appears to have led to the formation of a temporary lake within Rahe Crater, at its base. The more abundant, small valleys on the flanks are interpreted to form by radial drainage of melted ice or snow from the outside of the caldera rim. Comparison of Ceraunius Tholus with the volcano-capping Icelandic ice sheet Myrdalsjokull provides insight into the detailed mechanisms of summit heating, ice-cap accumulation and melting, and meltwater drainage. These observations further underline the importance of a combination of circumstances (i.e., climate change to produce summit snowpack and an active period of magmatism to produce melting) to form the valley systems on some martian volcanoes and not on others.