Although it has generally been accepted that the Martian outflow channels were carved by floods of water, observations of large channels on Venus and Mercury demonstrate that lava flows can cause substantial erosion. Recent observations of large lava flows within outflow channels on Mars have revived discussion of the hypothesis that the Martian channels are also produced by lava. An excellent example is found in south Kasei Valles (SKV), where the most recent major event was emplacement of a large lava flow. Calculations using high-resolution Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) demonstrate that this flow was locally turbulent, similar to a previously described flood lava flow in Athabasca Valles. The modeled peak local flux of approximately 106 m3 s−1 was approximately an order of magnitude lower than that in Athabasca, which may be due to distance from the vent. Fluxes close to 107 m3 s−1 are estimated in some reaches but these values are probably records of local surges caused by a dam-breach event within the flow. The SKV lava was locally erosive and likely caused significant (kilometer-scale) headwall retreat at several cataracts with tens to hundreds of meters of relief. However, in other places the net effect of the flow was unambiguously aggradational, and these are more representative of most of the flow. The larger outflow channels have lengths of thousands of kilometers and incision of a kilometer or more. Therefore, lava flows comparable to the SKV flow did not carve the major Martian outflow channels, although the SKV flow was among the largest and highest-flux lava flows known in the Solar System.
Additional publication details
Emplacement and erosive effects of the south Kasei Valles lava on Mars