The formation of Valles Marineris: 2. Stress focusing along the buried dichotomy boundary

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Although Valles Marineris is widely regarded as an extensional tectonic feature, the source of stress responsible for its formation remains unknown. This study argues that the tensile stresses that triggered Valles Marineris tectonism are a result of its location south of and subparallel to the buried crustal dichotomy boundary beneath Tharsis. The emplacement of the Tharsis volcanic load straddling the pre-existing topographic step of the crustal dichotomy boundary would have resulted in an abrupt change in the thickness of the load, causing differential subsidence and extension across the boundary. Thin-shell flexural models predict a narrow belt of focused tensile stresses south of the buried dichotomy boundary, coinciding with the location of present-day Valles Marineris. The interaction of these boundary-generated stresses with the competing stress fields associated with Tharsis loading can explain the formation of Noctis Labyrinthus in the west, and the deflection of the Valles Marineris troughs away from the buried boundary toward the east. Finite element models demonstrate that the magnitudes and vertical variations of stress at Valles Marineris are sensitive to the timing of loading and flexure in Tharsis. The incremental loading and flexure expected for a large volcanic rise results in the maximum tensile stress at Valles Marineris occurring at depth, with tensile stresses through the majority of the lithospheric column. Dikes forming within this tensile stress belt would propagate through the full vertical extent of the lithosphere due to the stress release associated with the dilation of the dikes, playing a crucial role in the formation of the Valles Marineris troughs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE04009
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research E: Planets
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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