Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The formation of gullies on Mars today

January 31, 2019

A decade of high-resolution monitoring has revealed extensive activity in fresh Martian gullies. Flows within the gullies are diverse: they can be relatively light, neutral or dark, colourful or bland, and range from superficial deposits to 10 m-scale topographic changes. We observed erosion and transport of material within gullies, new terraces, freshly eroded channel segments, migrating sinuous curves, channel abandonment, and lobate deposits. We also observed early stages of gully initiation, demonstrating that these processes are not merely modifying pre-existing landforms. The timing of activity closely correlates with the presence of seasonal CO2 frost, so the current changes must be part of ongoing gully formation that is driven largely by its presence. We suggest that the cumulative effect of many flows erodes alcoves and channels, and builds lobate aprons, with no involvement of liquid water. Instead, flows may be fluidized by sublimation of entrained CO2 ice or other mechanisms. The frequent activity is likely to have erased any features dating from high-obliquity periods, so fresh gully geomorphology at middle and high latitudes is not evidence for past liquid water. CO2 ice-driven processes may have been important throughout Martian geological history and their deposits could exist in the rock record, perhaps resembling debris-flow sediments.

Publication Year 2019
Title The formation of gullies on Mars today
DOI 10.1144/SP467.5
Authors Colin M. Dundas, Alfred S. McEwen, Serina Diniega, Candice J. Hansen, Jim N. McElwaince
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geological Society, London, Special Publications
Index ID 70201820
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center