The hydrosphere of Mars has remained mostly concealed within the subsurface for the past ∼3.5 Gyr. Localized rupturing of the permafrost-capped crust led to voluminous groundwater discharges that carved some of the largest known channels in the solar system. However, our knowledge of the nature of the flows and their ultimate fate remains incomplete, partly because diagnostic landforms at outflow channel termini have been largely destroyed or buried. The Hebrus Valles outflow channels were excavated by fluid discharges that emanated from two point sources, and they mostly terminate in systems of fractures and depressions within the northern plains. Our investigation indicates that outflow channel floodwaters were captured and reabsorbed into the subsurface in zones where caverns developed within the northern plains. These findings imply that the study region comprises the only known location in the Martian northern lowlands where the fate of outflow channel discharges can be assessed with confidence. We propose that evacuation of subsurface materials via mud volcanism was an important process in cavern formation. Our conceptual model provides a hypothesis to account for the fate of sediments and fluids from some of the Martian outflow channels. It also reveals a mechanism for lowland cavern formation and upper crustal volatile enrichment after the development of the Martian global cryosphere.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)