Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ancient snowfall likely carved Martian valleys

24.07.2013
Researchers at Brown University have shown that some Martian valleys appear to have been caused by runoff from orographic precipitation — moisture carried part of the way up a mountain and deposited on the slopes.

Valley networks branching across the Martian surface leave little doubt that water once flowed on the Red Planet. But where that ancient water came from — whether it bubbled up from underground or fell as rain or snow — is still debated by scientists. A new study by researchers at Brown University puts a new check mark in the precipitation column.


Mars from the Odyssey spacecraft
Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims. Credit: Images from NASA

The study finds that water-carved valleys at four different locations on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from orographic precipitation — snow or rain that falls when moist prevailing winds are pushed upward by mountain ridges. The new findings are the most detailed evidence yet of an orographic effect on ancient Mars and could shed new light on the planet’s early climate and atmosphere.

A paper describing the work has been accepted by Geophysical Research Letters and published online in June.

Kat Scanlon, a geological sciences graduate student at Brown, led the research and is well-acquainted with the orographic effect. She did graduate work in meteorology in Hawaii, which is home to a quintessential orographic pattern. Moist tropical winds from the east are pushed upward when they hit the mountains of Hawaii’s big island. The winds lack the kinetic energy to reach the mountain summit, so they dump their moisture on the eastern side of the island, making parts of it a tropical jungle. The western side, in contrast, is nearly a desert because it sits in a rain shadow cast by the mountain peak.

Scanlon thought similar orographic patterns might have been at play on early Mars and that the valley networks might be an indicator. “That’s what immediately came to mind in trying to figure out if these valleys on Mars are precipitation related,” she said.

The researchers, including Jim Head, professor of geological sciences, started by identifying four locations where valley networks were found along tall mountain ridges or raised crater rims. To establish the direction of the prevailing winds at each location, the researchers used a newly developed general circulation model (GCM) for Mars. The model simulates air movement based on the gas composition scientists think was present in the early Mars atmosphere. Next, the team used a model of orographic precipitation to determine where, given the prevailing winds from the GCM, precipitation would be likely to fall in each of the study areas.

Their simulations showed that precipitation would have been heaviest at the heads of the densest valley networks. “Their drainage density varies in the way you would expect from the complex response of precipitation to topography,” Scanlon said. “We were able to confirm that in a pretty solid way.”

The atmospheric parameters used in the GCM are based on a new comprehensive general circulation model that predicts a cold climate, so the precipitation modeled in this study was snow. But this snow could have been melted by episodic warming conditions to form the valley networks, and indeed some precipitation could have been rain during this period, Scanlon and Head say.

“The next step is to do some snowmelt modeling,” she said. “The question is how fast can you melt a giant snowbank. Do you need rain? Is it even possible to get enough discharge [to carve the valleys] with just the snowmelt?”

With the knowledge from this study that precipitation was important in carving the valleys, the answers to those additional questions could provide important insight into the climate on Mars billions of years ago.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu
http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2013/07/snow

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Hurricane Harvey: Dutch-Texan research shows most fatalities occurred outside flood zones
19.04.2018 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht Root exudates affect soil stability, water repellency
18.04.2018 | American Society of Agronomy

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

Im Focus: The Future of Ultrafast Solid-State Physics

In an article that appears in the journal “Review of Modern Physics”, researchers at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) assess the current state of the field of ultrafast physics and consider its implications for future technologies.

Physicists can now control light in both time and space with hitherto unimagined precision. This is particularly true for the ability to generate ultrashort...

Im Focus: Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning

The Atlantic overturning – one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards – is weaker today than any time before in more than 1000 years. Sea surface temperature data analysis provides new evidence that this major ocean circulation has slowed down by roughly 15 percent since the middle of the 20th century, according to a study published in the highly renowned journal Nature by an international team of scientists. Human-made climate change is a prime suspect for these worrying observations.

“We detected a specific pattern of ocean cooling south of Greenland and unusual warming off the US coast – which is highly characteristic for a slowdown of the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Improved stability of plastic light-emitting diodes

19.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Enduring cold temperatures alters fat cell epigenetics

19.04.2018 | Life Sciences

New capabilities at NSLS-II set to advance materials science

18.04.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>