Besides this iconic red dust, the planet Mars is covered in a spectacular topography, including the highest mountain in the solar system, countless impact craters and a great series of canyons and valleys. Now, new research theorizes that some of these gorges may have been carved into the Martian landscape by massive flooding as climate change melted the planet’s glaciers, according to an article published in the journal last week. Nature.
Mars is notoriously dry and dusty today, but billions of years ago the planet was probably home to a thick atmosphere and large amounts of liquid water. While research into whether this warm, humid life harbored on Mars is still ongoing, it is also increasingly clear that the effects of this period can still be found deeply imprinted on the planet’s surface today.
The once humid Mars was also regularly bombarded by asteroids, and it is likely that the craters caused by these impacts became water-filled lakes, reports Charles Q. Choi of Espace.com. As climate change began to spiral out of control on the Red Planet, these lakes appear to have breached, releasing vast amounts of water to the planet’s surface.
The magnitude is striking – researchers estimate that up to 25 percent of the volume of Martian valleys has been eroded by these lake breach floods, according to a statement published by the Planetary Science Institute.
While it was previously hypothesized that a relatively small amount of lake flooding had occurred on Mars, with the majority of its surface being shaped by flowing rivers, this new research suggests that these overflowing lakes were originally over 13,000 cubic miles of sculpted volume. away, a total ten times larger than Lake Michigan, by Espace.com.
“Our finding that about a quarter of the valley’s volume on Mars was geologically sculpted rapidly – on the order of days to months to years, as opposed to more than tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago – was indeed enough surprisingly, ”said geologist Timothy. Goudge, who was the lead research scientist, said Espace.com.
This kind of devastating flood has a close parallel with our planet. At the end of the last Ice Age, lakes held back by melting glaciers in the American Pacific Northwest burst their shores, releasing torrents of water that left their mark on the landscape.
And the parallels unfortunately still resonate today, reports Eric Mack of CNET. In mountain ranges such as the Himalayas and the Andes, melting glaciers create and fill large lakes that could eventually overflow and cause devastating flooding. While their impacts are unlikely to be in the range of the Martian Lake flooding, it is clear that climate change could continue to shape Earth’s landscape in the future.