Observations of impact craters on Earth show that a water column at the target strongly influences lithology and morphology of the resultant crater. The degree of influence varies with the target water depth and impactor diameter. Morphological features detectable in satellite imagery include a concentric shape with an inner crater inset within a shallower outer crater, which is cut by gullies excavated by the resurge of water. In this study, we show that if oceans, large seas, and lakes existed on Mars for periods of time, marine-target craters must have formed. We make an assessment of the minimum and maximum amounts of such craters based on published data on water depths, extent, and duration of putative oceans within "contacts 1 and 2," cratering rate during the different oceanic phases, and computer modeling of minimum impactor diameters required to form long-lasting craters in the seafloor of the oceans. We also discuss the influence of erosion and sedimentation on the preservation and exposure of the craters. For an ocean within the smaller "contact 2" with a duration of 100,000 yr and the low present crater formation rate, only ???1-2 detectable marine-target craters would have formed. In a maximum estimate with a duration of 0.8 Gyr, as many as 1400 craters may have formed. An ocean within the larger "contact 1-Meridiani," with a duration of 100,000 yr, would not have received any seafloor craters despite the higher crater formation rate estimated before 3.5 Gyr. On the other hand, with a maximum duration of 0.8 Gyr, about 160 seafloor craters may have formed. However, terrestrial examples show that most marine-target craters may be covered by thick sediments. Ground penetrating radar surveys planned for the ESA Mars Express and NASA 2005 missions may reveal buried craters, though it is uncertain if the resolution will allow the detection of diagnostic features of marine-target craters. The implications regarding the discovery of marine-target craters on Mars is not without significance, as such discoveries would help address the ongoing debate of whether large water bodies occupied the northern plains of Mars and would help constrain future paleoclimatic reconstructions. ?? Meteoritical Society, 2004.
Additional publication details
Marine-target craters on Mars? An assessment study