We review multiple estimates of the ice table depth at potential Phoenix landing sites and consider the possible state and distribution of subsurface ice. A two-layer model of ice-rich material overlain by ice-free material is consistent with both the observational and theoretical lines of evidence. Results indicate ground ice to be shallow and ubiquitous, 2-6 cm below the surface. Undulations in the ice table depth are expected because of the thermodynamic effects of rocks, slopes, and soil variations on the scale of the Phoenix Lander and within the digging area, which can be advantageous for analysis of both dry surficial soils and buried ice-rich materials. The ground ice at the ice table to be sampled by the Phoenix Lander is expected to be geologically young because of recent climate oscillations. However, estimates of the ratio of soil to ice in the ice-rich subsurface layer suggest that that the ice content exceeds the available pore space, which is difficult to reconcile with existing ground ice stability and dynamics models. These high concentrations of ice may be the result of either the burial of surface snow during times of higher obliquity, initially high-porosity soils, or the migration of water along thin films. Measurement of the D/H ratio within the ice at the ice table and of the soil-to-ice ratio, as well as imaging ice-soil textures, will help determine if the ice is indeed young and if the models of the effects of climate change on the ground ice are reasonable. Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union.
Additional publication details
A prelanding assessment of the ice table depth and ground ice characteristics in Martian permafrost at the Phoenix landing site