Amazonian mid- to high-latitude glaciation on Mars: Supply-limited ice sources, ice accumulation patterns, and concentric crater fill glacial flow and ice sequestration

J. L. Fastook and J. W. Head. Amazonian mid- to high-latitude glaciation on Mars: Supply-limited ice sources, ice accumulation patterns, and concentric crater fill glacial flow and ice sequestration. Planetary and Space Science, 91:60–76, doi: 10.1016/j.pss.2013.12.002, 2014.

Concentric crater fill (CCF) occurs in the interior of impact craters in mid- to high latitudes on Mars and is interpreted to have formed by glacial ice flow and debris covering. We use the characteristics and orientation of deposits comprising CCF, the thickness of pedestal deposits in mid- to high-latitude pedestal craters (Pd), the volumes of the current polar caps, and information about regional slopes and ice rheology to address questions about (1) the maximum thickness of regional ice deposits during the Late Amazonian, (2) the likelihood that these deposits flowed regionally, (3) the geological regions and features most likely to induce ice-flow, and (4) the locations and environments in which ice is likely to have been sequestered up to the present. We find that regional ice flow under Late Amazonian climate conditions requires ice thicknesses exceeding many hundreds of meters for slopes typical of the vast majority of the surface of Mars, a thickness for the mid-latitudes that is well in excess of the total volume available from polar ice reservoirs. This indicates that although conditions for mid- to high-latitude glaciation may have persisted for tens to hundreds of millions of years, the process is “supply limited”, with a steady state reached when the polar ice cap water ice supply becomes exhausted.

Impact craters are by far the most abundant landform with associated slopes (interior wall and exterior rim) sufficiently high to induce glacial ice flow under Late Amazonian climate conditions, and topographic slope data show that Amazonian impact craters have been clearly modified, undergoing crater interior slope reduction and floor shallowing. We show that these trends are the predictable response of ice deposition and preferential accumulation and retention in mid- to high-latitude crater interiors during episodes of enhanced spin–axis obliquity. We demonstrate that flow from a single episode of an inter-crater terrain layer comparable to Pedestal Crater deposit thicknesses (~50 m) cannot fill the craters in a time period compatible with the interpreted formation times of the Pedestal Crater mantled ice layers. We use a representative obliquity solution to drive an ice flow model and show that a cyclical pattern of multiply recurring layers can both fill the craters with a significant volume of ice, as well as transport debris from the crater walls out into the central regions of the craters. The cyclical pattern of waxing and waning mantling layers results in a rippled pattern of surface debris extending out into the crater interiors that would manifest itself as an observable concentric pattern, comparable in appearance to concentric crater fill. In this scenario, the formation of mantling sublimation till layers seals the accumulating ice and sequesters it from significant temperature variations at diurnal, annual and spin–axis/orbital cycle time scales, to produce ancient ice records preserved today below CCF crater floors.

Lack of meltwater features associated with concentric crater fill provides evidence that the Late Amazonian climate did not exceed the melting temperature in the mid- to high-latitudes for any significant period of time. Continued sequestration of ice with time in CCF and related deposits (lobate debris aprons and lineated valley fill) further reduces the already supply-limited polar ice sources, suggesting that there has been a declining reservoir of available ice with each ensuing glacial period. Together, these deposits represent a candidate library of climate chemistry and global change dating from the Late Amazonian, and a non-polar water resource for future exploration.