Topography of closed depressions, scarps, and grabens in the North Tharsis region of Mars: implications for shallow crustal discontinuities and graben formation


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Using Viking Orbiter images, detailed photoclinometric profiles were obtained across 10 irregular depressions, 32 fretted fractures, 49 troughs and pits, 124 solitary scarps, and 370 simple grabens in the north Tharsis region of Mars. These data allow inferences to be made on the shallow crustal structure of this region. The frequency modes of measured scarp heights correspond with previous general thickness estimates of the heavily cratered and ridged plains units. The depths of the flat-floored irregular depressions (55-175 m), fretted fractures (85-890 m), and troughs and pits (60-1620 m) are also similar to scarp heights (thicknesses) of the geologic units in which these depressions occur, which suggests that the depths of these flat-floored features were controlled by erosional base levels created by lithologic contacts. Although the features have a similar age, both their depths and their observed local structural control increase in the order listed above, which suggests that the more advanced stages of associated fracturing facilitated the development of these depressions by increasing permeability. If a ground-ice zone is a factor in development of these features, as has been suggested, our observation that the depths of these features decrease with increasing latitude suggests that either the thickness of the ground-ice zone does not increase poleward or the depths of the depressions were controlled by the top of the ground-ice zone whose depth may decrease with latitude. Deeper discontinuities are inferred from fault-intersection depths of 370 simple grabens (assuming 60° dipping faults that initiate at a mechanical discontinuity) in Tempe Terra and Alba Patera and from the depths of the large, flat-floored troughs in Tempe Terra. The frequency distributions of these fault-intersection and large trough depths show a concentration at 1.0-1.6 km depth, similar to data obtained for Syria, Sinai, and Lunae Plana. The consistency of these depth data over such a large region of western Mars suggests that a discontinuity or a process that transcends local and regional geology is responsible for the formation of these features. If this discontinuity is represented by the base of the cryosphere, its uniform depth over 55° of latitude suggests that the cryosphere did not thicken poleward. Alternatively, the concentration of depths at 1.0-1.6 km may represent the upper level of noneruptive dike ascent (lateral dike propagation) of Mars, which is controlled by gravity and atmospheric pressure and magma and country-rock characteristics, and was probably controlled, in part, by ground ice. Fault-intersection depths in the north Tharsis region locally extend down to a depth of 5-7 km. The depth data between 2 and 3 km are attributed to the discontinuity at the interface of megaregolith and basement or to the upper limit of noneruptive dike ascent of magma with a high volatile content. Intersection depths greater than 3 km, which were found at Alba Patera, may be due to the megaregolith-basement discontinuity, which was buried and depressed by volcanic loading, or to the upper level of noneruptive dike ascent of magma with a low volatile content. The near absence of narrow simple grabens with fault-initiation depths less than 0.6-1.0 km in this study area, as well as in most of western Mars, suggests that this depth represents the minimum depth that normal faults can initiate; at shallower depths tension cracks or joints would form instead. This hypothesis is supported by the application of the Griffith failure criterion to this minimum depth of normal fault initiation, which suggests that shallow crustal materials have a tensile strength of 2-4 MPa throughout most of western Mars, in close agreement with previous estimates of tensile strength of martian basaltic rock.

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Topography of closed depressions, scarps, and grabens in the North Tharsis region of Mars: implications for shallow crustal discontinuities and graben formation
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