New Study Finds Traces of Mega-Tsunamis on Mars

Thursday, 19 May 2016 - 10:25AM
Thursday, 19 May 2016 - 10:25AM
Scientists are becoming more and more certain that Mars was once a very far cry from the dry, dusty, inhospitable planet it is today. Recent evidence has shown us that our planetary neighbor once possessed vast oceans of liquid water that covered huge swathes of the planet and, in some places at least, ran up to a mile deep. Such a vast ocean gives hope to the idea that Mars may once have hosted life in some form or other, but there is now also evidence that the planet's oceans experienced something a little more devastating than a few microbes.

A team studying Mars's history has just presented evidence that suggests the planet's Northern ocean experience not one, but two mega-tsunamis. The team, from Planetary Sciences in Arizona and Cornell University, conducted a detailed analysis of the planet's Northernmost plains, finding signs that an ocean once existed there. However, these signs of significant water weren't exactly where they were expecting them to be.

J. Alex P. Rodriguez and researchers from Cornell University believe two separate meteor strikes, millions of years apart, each caused mega-tsunamis which changed the Martian landscape forever. 

Arrows highlight the furthest reaches of one of the huge Tsunamis - J. Alex P. Rodriguez

Evidence suggests these mega-tsunamis produced waves measuring up to 400ft high, which for reference is well over three times higher than the devastating Pacific tsunami of 2011.

Almost as fast as these huge tsunamis hurtled across the Martian landscape, they swiftly receded, leaving backwash channels that are visible on the planet's surface today. In the case of the second tsunami, some of the receding water froze leaving lobes of ice which became isolated from the ocean as it reverted back to its original shoreline.

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"These lobes froze on the land as they reached their maximum extent and the ice never went back to the ocean-which implies the ocean was at least partially frozen at that time," said Cornell's Alberto Fairén said in a statement. "Our paper provides very solid evidence for the existence of very cold oceans on early Mars."
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The most-exciting part of this evidence isn't the tsunamis themselves, but instead the shape of the aforementioned icy lobes it left behind. After studying the flow of this cold mass of water, the research team believes they have strong evidence that the oceans were saturated with salt, keeping it in a liquid form for much longer. As Fairén points out, when it comes to hosting life, salt is a very, very good sign.

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"If life existed on Mars, these icy tsunami lobes are very good candidates to search for biosignatures," said Fairén. "This salty composition may have allowed Martians ocean to remain in liquid form for as long as tens of millions of years."
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Via: Gizmodo


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