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Valles Marineris, Mars: Wet debris flows and ground ice

January 1, 1987

Detailed study of the Valles Marineris equatorial troughs suggests that the landslides in that area contained water and probably were gigantic wet debris flows: one landslide complex generated a channel that has several bends and extends for 250 km. Further support for water or ice in debris masses includes rounded flow lobes and transport of some slide masses in the direction of the local topographic slope. Differences in speed and emplacement efficiency between Martian and terrestrial landslides can be attributed to the entrainment of volatiles on Mars, but they can also be explained by other mechanisms. Support that the wall rock contained water comes from the following observations: (1) the water within the landslide debris must have been derived from wall rock; (2) debris appears to have been transported through tributary canyons; (3) locally, channels emerged from the canyons; (4) the wall rock apprarently disintegrated and flowed easily; and (5) fault zones within the troughs are unusually resistant to erosion. The study further suggests that, in the equatorial region of Mars, material below depths of 400-800 m was not desiccated during the time of landslide activity (within the last billion years of Martian history). Therefore the Martian ground-water or groundice reservoir, if not a relic from ancient times, must have been replenished.