Mars: the evolutionary history of the northern lowlands based on crater counting and geologic mapping

Planetary and Space Science
By: , and 



The geologic history of planetary surfaces is most effectively determined by joining geologic mapping and crater counting which provides an iterative, qualitative and quantitative method for defining relative ages and absolute model ages. Based on this approach, we present spatial and temporal details regarding the evolution of the Martian northern plains and surrounding regions.

The highland–lowland boundary (HLB) formed during the pre-Noachian and was subsequently modified through various processes. The Nepenthes Mensae unit along the northern margins of the cratered highlands, was formed by HLB scarp-erosion, deposition of sedimentary and volcanic materials, and dissection by surface runoff between 3.81 and 3.65 Ga. Ages for giant polygons in Utopia and Acidalia Planitiae are ~ 3.75 Ga and likely reflect the age of buried basement rocks. These buried lowland surfaces are comparable in age to those located closer to the HLB, where a much thinner, post-HLB deposit is mapped. The emplacement of the most extensive lowland surfaces ended between 3.75 and 3.4 Ga, based on densities of craters generally View the MathML source> 3 km in diameter. Results from the polygonal terrain support the existence of a major lowland depocenter shortly after the pre-Noachian formation of the northern lowlands. In general, northern plains surfaces show gradually younger ages at lower elevations, consistent local to regional unit emplacement and resurfacing between 3.6 and 2.6 Ga. Elevation levels and morphology are not necessarily related, and variations in ages within the mapped units are found, especially in units formed and modified by multiple geological processes. Regardless, most of the youngest units in the northern lowlands are considered to be lavas, polar ice, or thick mantle deposits, arguing against the ocean theory during the Amazonian Period (younger than about 3.15 Ga).

All ages measured in the closest vicinity of the steep dichotomy escarpment are also 3.7 Ga or older. The formation ages of volcanic flanks at the HLB (e.g., Alba Mons (3.6–3.4 Ga) and the last fan at Apollinaris Mons, 3.71 Ga) may give additional temporal constraint for the possible existence of any kind of Martian ocean before about 3.7 Ga. It seems to reflect the termination of a large-scale, precipitation-based hydrological cycle and major geologic processes related to such cycling.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mars: the evolutionary history of the northern lowlands based on crater counting and geologic mapping
Series title Planetary and Space Science
DOI 10.1016/j.pss.2011.03.022
Volume 59
Issue 11-12
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Astrogeology Science Center
Description 23 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Planetary and Space Science
First page 1143
Last page 1165
Other Geospatial Mars
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