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After Mars Pathfinder landed at the mouth of Ares Vallis, a large channel that drains into the Chryse Planitia basin, the mission reports unanimously supported the interpretation that the lander site is the locus of catastrophic flooding by noting that all aspects of the scene are consistent with this interpretation. However, alternatives cannot be ruled out by any site observations, as all aspects of the scene are equally consistent with other interpretations of origin, namely, ice and mass-flow processes subsequently modified by wind erosion. The authors discuss alternative explanations for the geologic history of the channel based on a regional view of the circum-Chryse channels from Viking images (our best broad-scale information to date) and the local view from the recent Pathfinder landing site. Mega-indicators of channel origin, the regional geomorphology, geology, and planetary climatic conditions, taken together suggest some combination of flood, mass flow, glacial, and eolian processes. The macro-indicators of channel origin (sedimentologic) are also not indicative of one process of emplacement, either as single criteria or taken cumulatively. Finally, the micro-indicators of channel origin (geochemical and mineralogic composition) do not provide very tight constraints on the deposits' possible origins other than that water was in some way involved.
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Observations at the Mars Pathfinder site: Do they provide "unequivocal" evidence of catastrophic flooding?