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A sedimentary origin for intercrater plains north of the Hellas basin: Implications for climate conditions and erosion rates on early Mars

A sedimentary origin for intercrater plains north of the Hellas basin: Implications for climate conditions and erosion rates on early Mars

Publication date: 14 November 2016

Authors: Salese, F., et al.

Journal: Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Volume: 121
Year: 2016

Copyright: © 2016 American Geophysical Union

Understanding the origin (volcanic or sedimentary) and timing of intercrater plains is crucial for deciphering the geological evolution of Mars. We have produced a detailed geological map of the intercrater plains north of the Hellas basin, based on images from the Mars Express High-Resolution Stereo Camera, the Mars Reconnaissance High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, and Context. Erosional windows and fresh impact craters provide a way of studying the lithology of intercrater plain units. They are composed predominantly of light-toned sedimentary rocks with subhorizontal bedding over a broad extent (greater than tens of kilometers), showing cross-bedding stratifications locally. The broad extent, geometry, and flat topography of these sediments favor a formation by aqueous processes (alluvial and lacustrine) rather than airfall (eolian and volcaniclastic). The Late Noachian (~3.7 Ga) sedimentary plains are locally covered by dark-toned, rough-textured lava flows of Late Hesperian age (~3.3 Ga). Fe/Mg phyllosilicates were detected within sedimentary rocks, whereas volcanic rocks contain pyroxene and lack signatures of alteration, in agreement with interpretations made from texture and morphology. In erosional windows, the superimposition of sedimentary rocks by younger volcanic flows enables the estimation of an erosion rate of ~1000 nm yr-1 during the Hesperian period (3.3–3.7 Ga). Thus, our study shows that an intense sedimentary cycle occurred on the northern rim of the Hellas basin before and during the Late Noachian, leading to the formation of widespread sedimentary plains, which were then eroded, in agreement with a gradual change in the climatic conditions in this period, and later covered by volcanic flows.

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