Images from the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) through August 1999 were analyzed for the global distribution of small-scale polygonal terrain not clearly resolved in Viking Orbiter imagery. With very few exceptions, small-scale polygonal terrain occurs at middle to high latitudes of the northern and southern hemisphere in Hesperian-age geologic units. The largest concentration of this terrain occurs in the Utopia basin in close association with scalloped depressions (interpreted as thermokarst) and appears to represent an Amazonia event. The morphology and occurence of small polygonal terrain suggest they are either mud desiccation cracks or ice-wedge polygons. Because the small-scale polygons in Utopia and Argyre Planitiae are associated with other cold-climate permafrost or glacial features, an ice-wedge model is preferred for these areas. Both cracking mechanisms work most effectively in water- or ice-rich finegrained material and may imply the seasonal or episodic existence of liquid water at the surface.
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Small-scale martian polygonal terrain: Implications for liquid surface water