The Dorsa Argentea Formation and the Noachian-Hesperian climate transition.
The Dorsa Argentea Formation (DAF), a set of geomorphologic units covering ∼1.5 million square kilometers in the south circumpolar region of Mars, has been interpreted as the remnants of a large south polar ice sheet that formed near the Noachian-Hesperian boundary and receded in the early Hesperian. Determining the extent and thermal regime of the DAF ice sheet, as well as the mechanism and timing of its recession, can therefore provide insight into the ancient martian climate and the timing of the transition from a presumably thicker CO2 atmosphere to the present climate. We used the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD) early Mars global climate model (GCM) and the University of Maine Ice Sheet Model (UMISM) glacial flow model to constrain climates allowing development of a south polar ice sheet of DAF-like size and shape. In addition, we modeled basal melting of this ice sheet in amounts and locations consistent with observed glaciofluvial landforms. A large, asymmetric region of ice stability surrounding the south pole is a robust feature of GCM simulations with spin-axis obliquity of 15° or 25° and a 600–1000 mb CO2 atmosphere. The shape results from the large-scale south polar topography of Mars and the strong dependence of surface temperature on altitude under a thicker atmosphere. Of the scenarios considered in this study, the extent of the modeled DAF ice sheet in UMISM simulations most closely matches that of the DAF when the surface water ice inventory of Mars is a ∼137 m global equivalent layer (GEL) and spin-axis obliquity is 15°. In climates warmed only by CO2, significant basal melting does not occur except when the ice inventory is larger than plausible estimates for early Mars. In this case, the extent of the south polar ice sheet is also much larger than that of the DAF, and basal melting is more widespread than observed landforms indicate. When an idealized greenhouse gas warms the surface by at least 20°C near the poles relative to CO2 alone, the stable extent of the ice sheet is less than that of the DAF units, but widespread basal melting occurs, with maxima in the locations where eskers are currently observed. We therefore conclude that warming by a gas other than CO2 alone was necessary to enable the construction of glaciofluvial landforms in the DAF. Previously published crater exposure ages of eskers in the DAF indicate that eskers were being exposed as activity was ceasing in the equatorial valley networks, suggesting that the warming that allowed basal melting at the edges of the DAF ice sheet were broadly contemporaneous with those in which the valley networks were carved. Finally, elevated Tharsis topography is required to produce an ice sheet with the shape of the DAF. Thus, our results are not consistent with the DAF (and the valley networks) forming before the emplacement of Tharsis, as recently suggested.
Scanlon, K., Head, J., Fastook, J., & Wordsworth., R. (2017). The Dorsa Argentea Formation and the Noachian-Hesperian climate transition. Icarus, 299, 339-363.