Experimental investigation of Mars meandering rivers: Chemical precipitation process

Monday, 15 December 2014
Wonsuck Kim1, Ye Jin Lim1, Joey Cleveland1, Ellen Reid2 and Calyn Jew1, (1)University of Texas, Austin, TX, United States, (2)Apache Corporation, Houston, TX, United States
On Earth, meandering streams occur where the banks are resistant to erosion, which enhances narrow and deep channels. Often this is because the stream banks are held firm by vegetation. The ancient, highly sinuous channels with cutoffs found on Mars are enigmatic because vegetation played no role in providing bank cohesion and enhancing fine sediment deposition. Possible causes of the meandering therefore include ice under permafrost conditions and chemical processes. We conducted carbonate flume experiments to investigate possible mechanisms creating meandering channels other than vegetation. The experiment includes a tank that dissolves limestone by adding CO2 gas and produces artificial spring water, peristaltic pumps to drive water through the system, a heater to control the temperature of the spring water, and a flume where carbonate sediment deposits. Spring water containing dissolved calcium and carbonate ions moves through a heater to increase temperature, and then into the flume. The flume surface is open to the air to allow CO2 degassing, decrease temperature, and increase pH, which promotes carbonate precipitation. A preliminary experiment was done and successfully created a meander pattern that evolved over a 3-day experiment. The experiment showed lateral migration of the bend and avulsion of the stream, similar to a natural meander. The lateral variation in flow speed increased the local residence time of water, thus increasing the degassing of CO2 on the two sides of the flow and promoting more precipitation. This enhanced precipitation on the sides provided a mechanism to build levees along the channel and created a stream confined in a narrow path. This mechanism also potentially applies to Earthly single thread and/or meandering rivers developed and recorded before vegetation appeared on Earth’s surface.