We photogeologically mapped the SP Mountain region of the San Francisco Volcanic Field in northern Arizona, USA to evaluate and improve the fidelity of approaches used in geologic mapping of Mars. This test site, which was previously mapped in the field, is chiefly composed of Late Cenozoic cinder cones, lava flows, and alluvium perched on Permian limestone of the Kaibab Formation. Faulting and folding has deformed the older rocks and some of the volcanic materials, and fluvial erosion has carved drainage systems and deposited alluvium. These geologic materials and their formational and modificational histories are similar to those for regions of the Martian surface. We independently prepared four geologic maps using topographic and image data at resolutions that mimic those that are commonly used to map the geology of Mars (where consideration was included for the fact that Martian features such as lava flows are commonly much larger than their terrestrial counterparts). We primarily based our map units and stratigraphic relations on geomorphology, color contrasts, and cross-cutting relationships. Afterward, we compared our results with previously published field-based mapping results, including detailed analyses of the stratigraphy and of the spatial overlap and proximity of the field-based vs. remote-based (photogeologic) map units, contacts, and structures. Results of these analyses provide insights into how to optimize the photogeologic mapping of Mars (and, by extension, other remotely observed planetary surfaces). We recommend the following: (1) photogeologic mapping as an excellent approach to recovering the general geology of a region, along with examination of local, high-resolution datasets to gain insights into the complexity of the geology at outcrop scales; (2) delineating volcanic vents and lava-flow sequences conservatively and understanding that flow abutment and flow overlap are difficult to distinguish in remote data sets; (3) taking care to understand that surficial materials (such as alluvium and volcanic ash deposits) are likely to be under-mapped yet are important because they obscure underlying units and contacts; (4) where possible, mapping multiple contact and structure types based on their varying certainty and exposure that reflect the perceived accuracy of the linework; (5) reviewing the regional context and searching for evidence of geologic activity that may have affected the map area yet for which evidence within the map area may be absent; and (6) for multi-authored maps, collectively analyzing the mapping relations, approaches, and methods throughout the duration of the mapping project with the objective of achieving a solid, harmonious product.
Additional publication details
Assessment of planetary geologic mapping techniques for Mars using terrestrial analogs: The SP Mountain area of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, Arizona