For scientists trying to understand what ancient Mars might have been like, the red planet sends some mixed signals. Water-carved valleys and lakebeds leave little doubt that water once flowed on the surface. But climate models for early Mars suggest average temperatures around the globe stayed well below freezing.
A recent study led by Brown University geologists offers a potential bridge between the "warm and wet" story told by Martian geology and the "cold and icy" past suggested by atmospheric models. The study shows that it's plausible, even if Mars was generally frozen over, that peak daily temperatures in summer might sneak above freezing just enough to cause melting at the edges of glaciers.
That meltwater, produced in relatively small amounts year after year, could have been enough to carve the features observed on the planet today, the researchers conclude.
The study is published online in the journal Icarus. Ashley Palumbo, a Ph.D. student at Brown, led the work with Jim Head, a professor in Brown's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Science, and Robin Wordsworth, a professor in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Palumbo says the research was inspired by climate dynamics found here on Earth.
"We see this in the Antarctic Dry Valleys, where seasonal temperature variation is sufficient to form and sustain lakes even though mean annual temperature is well below freezing," Palumbo said. "We wanted to see if something similar might be possible for ancient Mars."
The researchers started with a state-of-the-art climate model for Mars -- one that assumes an ancient atmosphere composed largely of carbon dioxide (as it is today). The model generally produces a cold and icy early Mars, partly because the sun's energy output is thought to have been much weaker early in solar system history.
The researchers ran the model for a broad parameter space for variables that may have been important around 4 billion years ago when the iconic valley networks on the planet's southern highlands were formed.
While scientists generally agree that the Martian atmosphere was thicker in the past, it's not clear just how thick it actually was. Likewise, while most researchers agree that the atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, there may have been small amounts of other greenhouse gases present. So Palumbo and her colleagues ran the model with various plausible atmospheric thicknesses and extra amounts of greenhouse warming.
It's also not known exactly what the variations in Mars' orbit might have been like 4 billion years ago, so the researchers tested a range of plausible orbital scenarios. They tested different degrees of axis tilt, which influences how much sunlight the planet's upper and lower latitudes receive, as well as different degrees of eccentricity -- the extent to which the planet's orbit around the sun deviates from a circle, which can amplify seasonal temperature changes.
The model produced scenarios in which ice covered the region near the location of the valley networks. And while the planet's mean annual temperature in those scenarios stayed well below freezing, the model produced peak summertime temperatures in the southern highlands that rose above freezing.
In order for this mechanism to possibly explain the valley networks, it must produce the correct volume of water in the time duration of valley network formation, and the water must run off on the surface at rates comparable to those required for valley network incision. A few years ago, Head and Eliot Rosenberg, an undergraduate at Brown at the time who has since graduated, published an estimate of the minimum amount of water required to carve the largest of the valleys.
Using that as a guide, along with estimates of necessary runoff rates and the duration of valley network formation from other studies, Palumbo showed that model runs in which the Martian orbit was highly eccentric did indeed meet these criteria. That degree of eccentricity required is well within the range of possible orbits for Mars 4 billion years ago, Palumbo says.
Taken together, Palumbo says, the results offer a potential means of reconciling the geological evidence for flowing water on early Mars with the atmospheric evidence for a cold and icy planet.
"This work adds a plausible hypothesis to explain the way in which liquid water could have formed on early Mars, in a manner similar to the seasonal melting that produces the streams and lakes we observe during our field work in the Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valleys," Head said. "We are currently exploring additional candidate warming mechanisms, including volcanism and impact cratering, that might also contribute to melting of a cold and icy early Mars."
So while the work doesn't close the "cold and icy" versus "warm and wet" debate, it does make the case that a mostly frozen early Mars was a distinct possibility.
Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
Squeezing light at the nanoscale
18.06.2018 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
The Fraunhofer IAF is a »Landmark in the Land of Ideas«
15.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF
Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.
Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...
The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.
Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.
An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.
Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...
Light detection and control lies at the heart of many modern device applications, such as smartphone cameras. Using graphene as a light-sensitive material for...
Water molecules exist in two different forms with almost identical physical properties. For the first time, researchers have succeeded in separating the two forms to show that they can exhibit different chemical reactivities. These results were reported by researchers from the University of Basel and their colleagues in Hamburg in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
From a chemical perspective, water is a molecule in which a single oxygen atom is linked to two hydrogen atoms. It is less well known that water exists in two...
13.06.2018 | Event News
08.06.2018 | Event News
05.06.2018 | Event News
18.06.2018 | Earth Sciences
18.06.2018 | Process Engineering
18.06.2018 | Life Sciences