Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How Water Could Have Flowed on Mars

19.11.2014

A new model suggests volcanic activity in Mars’ distant past spewed enough greenhouse gases to melt ice and warm the atmosphere

Why does the cold, barren surface of Mars contain geological features that appear to have been formed by flowing water: river valleys, lake basins, and deltas? A new model, published online in Nature Geoscience, suggests that sulfur spewed into the Martian atmosphere by ancient volcanoes could have periodically warmed the surface enough for the ice to melt and water to flow.


Weizmann Institute of Science

Satellite image of Olympus Mons on Mars, the largest volcano in the solar system at about three times the height of Mount Everest. Around 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, the release of volcanic gases, especially the greenhouse gas sulfur dioxide, may have warmed the surface of Mars episodically, melting the ice and thereby explaining the presence of geomorphological features indicative of the flow of water on the planet’s ancient surface.

Indeed, the signs of flowing water have been a puzzle, as the latest generation of climate models portrays Mars as an eternally ice-cold planet with all of its water frozen solid, especially early in its history, when the Sun was weaker than it is today.

Today, most of that water is locked in polar caps. Dr. Itay Halevy of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Dr. James Head III of Brown University thought the answer might lie in the now dormant volcanoes on the planet’s surface, which could have played a larger role than previously thought in shaping its climate.

On Earth, volcanic emissions – sulfur compounds and ash – tend to cool the climate. But in the presumably dusty early atmosphere of Mars, the net effects might have been different. To understand their impact, Drs. Halevy and Head first calculated the size of ancient volcanic eruptions, based on the volcanic rock formations observed on the planetary surface today.

Their estimations show that the eruptions were violent – hundreds of times the force of the average eruption on Earth – and may have lasted up to a decade. This means that the amounts of gases spewed from the mouths of these volcanoes, from what we know of Earth’s eruptions, must have been enormous.

The team’s simulations showed large amounts of the greenhouse gas sulfur dioxide mixing into the atmosphere. But warming caused by the sulfur dioxide was thought to be outweighed by cooling due to the creation of sun-blocking sulfuric acid particles, which form as sulfur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere.

Drs. Halevy and Head showed that, in an atmosphere already as dusty as that of Mars, the sulfuric acid mostly forms thin coatings around particles of mineral dust and volcanic ash, subduing the added cooling. The net effect, according to the model the scientists created, was modest warming – just enough to allow water to flow at low latitudes on either side of the planet’s equator.

Liquid water may have flowed in these regions for tens to hundreds of years during and immediately after volcanic eruptions. The model suggests that during these brief, but intense, wet periods, the surface of the planet could have been carved by flowing rivers and streams.

Dr. Itay Halevy’s research is supported by the Sir Charles Clore Research Prize; the Carolito Stiftung; the estate of Olga Klein Astrachan; and the European Research Council.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. The Institute’s 3,800-strong scientific community engages in research addressing crucial problems in medicine and health, energy, technology, agriculture, and the environment. Outstanding young scientists from around the world pursue advanced degrees at the Weizmann Institute’s Feinberg Graduate School. The discoveries and theories of Weizmann Institute scientists have had a major impact on the wider scientific community, as well as on the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.

Contact Information
Jennifer Manning
Director, Science Content
jennifer@acwis.org
Phone: 212-895-7952

Jennifer Manning | newswise
Further information:
http://www.weizmann-usa.org/news-media/news-releases.aspx

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>