Mars is divided into two fundamentally different geological provinces of approximately hemispherical extent1-3. The more southerly province is heavily cratered, contains relatively old geological units, and superficially resembles the lunar and mercurian highlands. The northern province is relatively lightly cratered and contains younger geological units, including extensive plains, volcanic edifices, and volcanic calderas. Except for the Tharsis and Elysium regions and other large volcanoes, most of the younger, northern province consists of lowlands, which lie an average of 3 km below the highlands. Lowlands occupy about one-third of Mars. They are separated from the highlands by a distinct scarp or by a sloping transitional zone as much as 700km wide in which highland materials have been disrupted and partly replaced by lowland deposits (Fig. 1). The transition is characterized by a variety of landforms unknown on other planets. The highlands and lowlands are in isostatic equilibrium across the transitional zone4. No generally accepted explanation for the cause of the highland-lowland dichotomy has been proposed although thinning of the lithosph.