HiRISE observations of gas sublimation-driven activity in Mars’ southern polar regions: I. Erosion of the surface
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has imaged the sublimation of Mars' seasonal CO 2 polar cap with unprecedented detail for one complete martian southern spring. In some areas of the surface, beneath the conformal coating of seasonal ice, radially-organized channels are connected in spidery patterns. The process of formation of this terrain, erosion by gas from subliming seasonal ice, has no earthly analog. The new capabilities (high resolution, color, and stereo images) of HiRISE enable detailed study of this enigmatic terrain. Two sites are analyzed in detail, one within an area expected to have translucent seasonal CO 2 ice, and the other site outside that region. Stereo anaglyphs show that some channels grow larger as they go uphill - implicating gas rather than liquid as the erosive agent. Dark fans of material from the substrate are observed draped over the seasonal ice, and this material collects in thin to thick layers in the channels, possibly choking off gas flow in subsequent years, resulting in inactive crisscrossing shallow channels. In some areas there are very dense networks of channels with similar width and depth, and fewer fans emerging later in the season are observed. Subtle variations in topography affect the channel morphology. A new terminology is proposed for the wide variety of erosional features observed.