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The Carving of Canyons Across Mars

Presently, most of the water on the planet Mars is locked away in the frozen ice caps. Earlier, approximately around billions of years ago, the water used to flow across the surface as a result forming rushing rivers that emptied into craters, leading to lakes and seas.

A new research has been conducted by the University of Texas at Austin wherein it has been found that at times the lakes take on so much water that it results into their overflow and bursting from the sides of their basins.  This further results in catastrophic floods that carve canyons. This process doesn’t take much time but only a few weeks. Tim Goudge, a postdoctoral researcher at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, stated that this process makes one fact evident that the catastrophic geologic processes have an important role in carving the landscape of Mars and other worlds without plate tectonics. Various researchers have proved over time that by studying about the rock formations with the help of satellite images, scientists are aware that hundreds of craters across the surface of Mars were at one point of time absolutely covered by water. Until the conduct of this study, it was not known that whether the canyons were gradually carved over millions of years or carved rapidly by single floods. The researchers examined the topography of the outlets and the crater rims and found a correlation between the size of the outlet and the volume of water expected to be released during a large flooding event. The researchers studied 24 paleolakes and their outlet canyons across the red planet. A similar process also takes place on Earth when lakes dammed by glaciers break through their icy barriers. The researchers found that the similarity is more than apparent. The floods create outlets with almost similar shapes whether on Earth or Mars. Big floods on Mars and Earth are governed by the same mechanics. They often fit into different geological paradigms. The slow and steady motion of tectonic plates changes the planet’s surface over millions of years. Fassett stated that the landscape on Earth doesn’t preserve large lakes for a very long time. The canyons have been there for about 3.7 billions years which is a very long time and it clearly describes of what the deep time surface water was like on Mars.

By: Anuja Arora