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Early Mars climate near the Noachian–Hesperian boundary

February 21st, 2013

J L Fastook, J W Head, D R Marchant, F Forget, and J-B Madeleine, 2012, Early Mars climate near the Noachian–Hesperian boundary: Independent evidence for cold conditions from basal melting of the south polar ice sheet (Dorsa Argentea Formation) and implications for valley network formation, Icarus 219(1):  25-40.


Currently, and throughout much of the Amazonian, the mean annual surface temperatures of Mars are so cold that basal melting does not occur in ice sheets and glaciers and they are cold-based. The documented evidence for extensive and well-developed eskers (sediment-filled former sub-glacial meltwater channels) in the south circumpolar Dorsa Argentea Formation is an indication that basal melting and wetbased glaciation occurred at the South Pole near the Noachian–Hesperian boundary. We employ glacial accumulation and ice-flow models to distinguish between basal melting from bottom-up heat sources (elevated geothermal fluxes) and top-down induced basal melting (elevated atmospheric temperatures warming the ice). We show that under mean annual south polar atmospheric temperatures (100 C) simulated in typical Amazonian climate experiments and typical Noachian–Hesperian geothermal heat fluxes (45–65 mW/m2), south polar ice accumulations remain cold-based. In order to produce significant basal melting with these typical geothermal heat fluxes, the mean annual south polar atmospheric temperatures must be raised from today’s temperature at the surface (100 C) to the range of 50 to 75 C. This mean annual polar surface atmospheric temperature range implies lower latitude mean annual temperatures that are likely to be below the melting point of water, and thus does not favor a “warm and wet” early Mars. Seasonal temperatures at lower latitudes, however, could range above the melting point of water, perhaps explaining the concurrent development of valley networks and open basin lakes in these areas. This treatment provides an independent estimate of the polar (and non-polar) surface temperatures near the Noachian–Hesperian boundary of Mars history and implies a cold and relatively dry Mars climate, similar to the Antarctic Dry Valleys, where seasonal melting forms transient streams and permanent ice-covered lakes in an otherwise hyperarid, hypothermal climate.

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