The morphology of the Martian surface

Space Science Reviews

DOI: 10.1007/BF00221929



Most of the southern hemisphere of Mars is densely cratered and stands 1-3 km above the topographic datum. The northern hemisphere is more sparsely cratered and elevations are generally below the datum. A broad rise, the Tharsis bulge, centered at 14?? S, 101?? W, is 8000 km across and 10 km above the datum at its summit. The densely cratered terrain has two main components; very ancient crust, nearly saturated with large craters, and younger intercrater plains. In many areas the older unit is fractured and extensively dissected by small channels. The younger intercrater plains are distinctly layered in places and less dissected, less fractured, and less cratered. Both units probably date from very early in the planet's history. Cratered plains cover much of the northern hemisphere and are highly variegated. Those around the large volcanoes are covered with numerous volcanic flows whereas in other areas the plains are featureless except for craters and lunar mare-like ridges. Between 40?? N and 60?? N the plains are complex with various kinds of striped and patterned ground, low escarpments, and isolated irregularly shaped mesas. Their peculiar morphology has been attributed, in part, to the repeated deposition and removal of volatile-rich debris layers. Along the boundary between the northern plains and the densely cratered terrain to the south, the plains and cratered terrain complexly inter-finger. The old terrain forms the high ground and appears to have undergone mass wasting on a large scale. In several areas, particularly south of Chryse Planitia, the old, cratered surface has collapsed to form chaotic terrain. Large channels, tens of kilometers wide and hundreds of kilometers long, with numerous characteristics suggestive of catastrophic flooding, commonly emerge from the chaotic areas. Much of the area between 50?? W and 180?? W and 50?? N and 50?? S is cut by fractures radial to the center of the Tharsis bulge. The equatorial canyon system, Valles Marineris, is radial to the bulge and appears to have formed largely by faulting along the radial fractures, although it has also been extensively modified by various mass wasting and fluvial processes. Most but not all volcanoes are in the Tharsis and Elysium regions. The largest resemble terrestrial shield volcanoes except for scale; the edifices, flow features and calderas are all far larger than their terrestrial counterparts. Most impact craters on Mars are surrounded by layers of ejecta, each with a distil ridge. This unique morphology coupled with other surface characteristics suggests large amounts of ground ice. Layered deposits at both poles appear to be relatively young, volatile-rich, aeolian deposits. The north pole is also surrounded by a continuous belt of dunes several tens of kilometers across. In most other places, aeolian modification of the surface at a scale of several tens of meters appears slight despite annual global dust storms. ?? 1980 D. Reidel Publishing Co.

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The morphology of the Martian surface
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Space Science Reviews
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Kluwer Academic Publishers
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