Erosion Effects of Liquid Water and Volatiles in a Former Lacustrine Environment - From Gale Crater to Death Valley

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Radu Horia Iacob1, Rosalba Bonaccorsi2,3 and Cristina Elena Iacob1,4, (1)Geological Society of America Boulder, Planetary Division Associate, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)SETI Institute Mountain View, Mountain View, CA, United States, (3)NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (4)STARSIC, Project Management, Santa Clara, CA, United States
During its first two years of exploration, Curiosity rover provided strong evidence of water activity at Gale Crater on Mars. While liquid water is not commonly present on the surface of Mars, large depressions such as Gale Crater hold evidence that water was collected in impact craters on Mars in the distant past. Specific features such as alluvial fans, inverted riverbeds, moat areas, and sedimentary formations, demonstrate strong water activity on low elevation regions of Mars. While surface water (gradually) disappeared as the climate and atmosphere of Mars changed, important water deposits formed underground, either as sub-surface ice shelves, or in the form of hydrated minerals, as demonstrated by MER and MSL. Although the presence of water ice under the ancient lake bed at the foothills of Mount Sharp is still to be determined, the area explored so far by Curiosity exhibits erosion features that can help describe the history of water activity along billions of years, e.g., river streams, lacustrine sedimentation, and later cycles of evaporation, frosting and sublimation.

This presentation features a comparative study of water erosion processes at Gale Crater on Mars and Death Valley (DV) on Earth, from ancient water flows and lacustrine environments, through evaporation, dryness, and cyclic frosting and sublimation. Groundwater deposits in Death Valley offer best opportunities to study the process of minerals hydration, as well as landforms related to underground water percolation and evaporation, similar to those discovered by Curiosity at Yellowknife Bay. Furthermore, sedimentary processes in lacustrine proximal settings similar to those argued for Mount Sharp, or seen at Gale Crater’s floor, have been studied in several locations of DV. These include, but are not limited to, younger dry lake beds of former lakes Manly and Panamint, carved badland formations of Furnace Creek Lake (Zabriskie Point) and older Tertiary lacustrine and fanglomeratic deposits exposed in cratered terrains (i.e., Ubehebe Volcanic Field). All of the above involve depositional and erosional landforms (gullies, alluvial fans, bottom slope debris deposits, layers of hydrated minerals), which can be used as natural research laboratory for sedimentary and erosion processes and as analog models for Gale Crater.