A Quantitative Characterization and Classification of Martian Valley Networks: New Constraints on Mars’ Early Climate and Its Variability in Space and Time

Monday, 15 December 2014
Anna Grau Galofre, University of British Columbia, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Vancouver, BC, Canada and Mark Jellinek, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Valley networks and outflow channels are among the most arresting features of Mars’ surface. Remarkable similarities between the structure and complexity of individual Martian channels with certain fluvial systems on Earth supports a popular picture of a warm wet early Mars. A key assumption in this picture is that "typical" Martian examples adequately capture the average character of the majority of all valley networks. However, a full catalog of the distribution of geomorphologic variability of valley networks over Mars’ surface geometry has never been established. Accordingly, we present the first planet-wide map in which we use statistical methods and theoretical arguments to classify Martian channels in terms of the mechanics governing their formation. Using new metrics for the size, shape and complexity of channel networks, which we ground truth against a large suite of terrestrial examples, we distinguish drainage patterns related to glacial, subglacial, fluvial and lava flows. Preliminary results separate lava flows from other flow features and show that these features can be divided into three different groups of increasing complexity. The characteristics of these groups suggest that they represent fluvial, subglacial and glacial features. We show also that the relative proportions of the different groups varies systematically, with higher density of river-like features located in low longitudes and increasing glacial-like features as we move east or west. Our results suggest that the early Martian climate and hydrologic cycle was richer and more diverse than originally thought.