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Barlow: Plenty of Water on Mars
Barlow: Plenty of Water on Mars
21 Aug 2001
(Source: University of Central Florida)

News Bureau
University of Central Florida
Orlando, Florida

Contact:
Nadine Barlow, 407-823-0251, ngb@physics.ucf.edu

By Susan Loden

When we make it to Mars, there's an excellent chance that we will find a vast, easy-access watering hole to help sustain life on the Red Planet. This ice-crusted reservoir was found by Nadine Barlow, director of UCF's Robinson Observatory, and her partners John Koroshetz, a former UCF physics undergraduate student, and James Dohm, a research associate with the University of Arizona's Department of Hydrology and Water Resources.

Barlow's use of impact craters to identify a near-surface ice reservoir south of the big canyon system Valles Marineris on Mars is outlined in the Aug. 15 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

"This ice is closer to the surface in the Solis Planum area than ice elsewhere in the equatorial region and our analysis also suggests that an extensive liquid water reservoir underlies this shallow ice deposit" Barlow says.

"We believe that nearby, long-term volcanic activity has concentrated the volatiles in this region, due to various episodes of uplifting and tilting of the groundwater table. Heating associated with the volcanism has also kept the water liquid for longer time periods,"

The team poured over Mars surface images from two 1970s-era Viking Orbiters, taking a closer look at the smooth plains of Solis Planum which is pocked with craters formed by meteorite impact. They evaluated crater shapes and the ejecta deposits thrown from the craters when they were created. The locations and diameters of hundreds of craters were evaluated, mapped and cataloged. Excavation depths of the craters were obtained from the crater diameters using relationships derived from the laser altimeter data taken by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since 1997. More analysis of this area is continuing with the MGS Mars Orbiter Camera data.

The character of craters and deposits is believed to indicate what might be beneath the surface. In particular, the fluidized appearance of ejecta deposits surrounding fresh impact craters on Mars is commonly believed to indicate impact into subsurface ice and or water.

Barlow believes ice and water are just below the surface in the Solis and Thaumasia Planae region. The tip-off is smaller than average onset- diameters for single-layer craters, strongly suggesting a supply of ice about 360 feet from the surface there, compared to approximately 650 feet elsewhere in the equatorial region.

The team will now try to estimate how much ice and water the reservoir holds, while their find attracts media attention. Space.com was first to interview Barlow after she reported on the reservoir at a workshop last year. A report on her paper can be found at http://space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/mars_ice_010813.html MSNBC and UPI have also reported on the discovery.

[NOTE: Images supporting this release are available at http://www.news.ucf.edu/FY2001-02/010821a.html]

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Last Updated: 27 Aug 2001