Crater-based dating of geological units on Mars: methods and application for the new global geological map

By: , and 



The new, post-Viking generation of Mars orbital imaging and topographical data provide significant higher-resolution details of surface morphologies, which induced a new effort to photo-geologically map the surface of Mars at 1:20,000,000 scale. Although from unit superposition relations a relative stratigraphical framework can be compiled, it was the ambition of this mapping project to provide absolute unit age constraints through crater statistics. In this study, the crater counting method is described in detail, starting with the selection of image data, type locations (both from the mapper’s and crater counter’s perspectives) and the identification of impact craters. We describe the criteria used to validate and analyse measured crater populations, and to derive and interpret crater model ages. We provide examples of how geological information about the unit’s resurfacing history can be retrieved from crater size–frequency distributions. Three cases illustrate short-, intermediate, and long-term resurfacing histories. In addition, we introduce an interpretation-independent visualisation of the crater resurfacing history that uses the reduction of the crater population in a given size range relative to the expected population given the observed crater density at larger sizes. From a set of potential type locations, 48 areas from 22 globally mapped units were deemed suitable for crater counting. Because resurfacing ages were derived from crater statistics, these secondary ages were used to define the unit age rather than the base age. Using the methods described herein, we modelled ages that are consistent with the interpreted stratigraphy. Our derived model ages allow age assignments to be included in unit names. We discuss the limitations of using the crater dating technique for global-scale geological mapping. Finally, we present recommendations for the documentation and presentation of crater statistics in publications.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Crater-based dating of geological units on Mars: methods and application for the new global geological map
Series title Icarus
DOI 10.1016/j.icarus.2013.04.021
Volume 225
Issue 1
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Astrogeology Science Center
Description 22 p.
First page 806
Last page 827
Other Geospatial Mars