The plains materials that form the martian northern lowlands suggest large-scale sedimentation in this part of the planet. The general view is that these sedimentary materials were transported from zones of highland erosion via outflow channels and other fluvial systems. The study region, the northern circum-polar plains south of Gemini Scopuli on Planum Boreum, comprises the only extensive zone in the martian northern lowlands that does not include sub-basin floors nor is downstream from outflow channel systems. Therefore, within this zone, the ponding of fluids and fluidized sediments associated with outflow channel discharges is less likely to have taken place relative to sub-basin areas that form the other northern circum-polar plains surrounding Planum Boreum. Our findings indicate that during the Late Hesperian sedimentary deposits produced by the erosion of an ancient cratered landscape, as well as via sedimentary volcanism, were regionally emplaced to form extensive plains materials within the study region. The distribution and magnitude of surface degradation suggest that groundwater emergence from an aquifer that extended from the Arabia Terra cratered highlands to the northern lowlands took place non-catastrophically and regionally within the study region through faulted upper crustal materials. In our model the margin of the Utopia basin adjacent to the study region may have acted as a boundary to this aquifer. Partial destruction and dehydration of these Late Hesperian plains, perhaps induced by high thermal anomalies resulting from the low thermal conductivity of these materials, led to the formation of extensive knobby fields and pedestal craters. During the Early Amazonian, the rates of regional resurfacing within the study region decreased significantly; perhaps because the knobby ridges forming the eroded impact crater rims and contractional ridges consisted of thermally conductive indurated materials, thereby inducing freezing of the tectonically controlled waterways associated with these features. This hypothesis would explain why these features were not completely destroyed. During the Late Amazonian, high-obliquity conditions may have led to the removal of large volumes of volatiles and sediments being eroded from Planum Boreum, which then may have been re-deposited as thick, circum-polar plains. Transition into low obliquity ~5. myr ago may have led to progressive destabilization of these materials leading to collapse and pedestal crater formation. Our model does not contraindicate possible large-scale ponding of fluids in the northern lowlands, such as for example the formation of water and/or mud oceans. In fact, it provides a complementary mechanism involving large-scale groundwater discharges within the northern lowlands for the emplacement of fluids and sediments, which could have potentially contributed to the formation of these bodies. Nevertheless, our model would spatially restrict to surrounding parts of the northern plain either the distribution of the oceans or the zones within these where significant sedimentary accumulation would have taken place. ?? 2010 Elsevier Inc.
Additional publication details
Late Hesperian plains formation and degradation in a low sedimentation zone of the northern lowlands of Mars