History of Mars Oceans Rewritten by Giant Volcanic Eruption Discovery
Mars has been at the center of attention for years now, but most people still don't know about Tharsis, a massive volcanic plateau that's so big that it warped a large portion of the planet's surface when it emerged. There's nothing like it on Earth, and according to new research from UC Berkeley, it may be the key to understanding the truth about Mars' mysterious oceans.
There's evidence of potential coastlines and seabeds on Mars, but based on the information gleaned from these features, Mars' oceans would have to have been very big and very deep. That causes a problem, because most estimations of the size of Mars' supposed oceans end up being too large to explain where all that water went—there's not enough of it contained in permafrost or the polar ice caps, and the amount that could have escaped into space doesn't match up with current models.
This is where Tharsis comes in.
According to the new study from UC Berkeley, most of Mars' oceans formed in the northern hemisphere before (and during) the Tharsis plateau's formation, rather than afterwards, meaning that the supposed sea beds we see today were originally much shallower.
In fact, the new study estimates that Mars' oceans were about half as deep as previously estimated and formed hundreds of millions of years earlier. In addition, Tharsis' volcanoes may have actually contributed to the formation of oceans by ejecting large amounts of gas into Mars' atmosphere, kicking off a period of global warming and creating better conditions for water formation.
If this new hypothesis is correct, then ancient Mars may have been a much better candidate for extraterrestrial life than the dry, dusty planet we know today.
Luckily, NASA already has a new mission planned to study Mars—the InSight lander, which is slated to launch in May. Apart from investigating Mars' crust, mantle, and core, the lander will also look out for "Marsquakes"—Martian earthquakes.