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The Surface of Mars
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  • Page extent: 322 pages
  • Size: 276 x 219 mm
  • Weight: 1.13 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 559.9/23
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: QB641 .C3632 2006
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Mars (Planet)--Surface

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521872010)

The Surface of Mars
Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-87201-0 - The Surface of Mars - by Michael H. Carr
Front Matter

The Surface of Mars

Our knowledge of Mars has grown enormously over the last decade as a result of the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and the two Mars Rover missions. This book is a systematic summary of what we have learnt about the geological evolution of Mars as a result of these missions, and builds on the themes of the author's previous book on this topic.

The surface of Mars has many geological features that have recognizable counterparts on Earth. Many are huge in comparison to those on Earth, including volcanoes, canyons and river channels that are ten times larger than their terrestrial equivalents. The book describes the diverse Martian surface features and summarizes current ideas as to how, when, and under what conditions they formed. It explores how Earth and Mars differ and why the two planets evolved so differently. While the author's main focus is on geology, he also discusses possible implications of the geological history for the origin and survival of indigenous Martian life.

Up-to-date and richly illustrated with over two hundred figures, the book will be a principal reference for researchers and students in planetary science. The comprehensive list of references will also assist readers in pursuing further information on the subject.

MICHAEL CARR is a Geologist Emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey, and has over 40 years' experience of planetary science research. In the early 1970s Dr. Carr was a member of the Mariner 9 team and leader of the Viking Orbiter Imaging team. He was co-investigator on the Mars Global Surveyor, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was awarded the 1994 National Air and Space Museum Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on Mars. He is also the author of The Surface of Mars (1981) and Water on Mars (1996).

Cambridge Planetary Science Series

Series editors: F. Bagenal, F. Nimmo, C. Murray, D. Jewitt, R. Lorenz and S. Russell

Books in the series

Jupiter: The Planet, Satellites and Magnetosphere F. Bagenal, T. E. Dowling and W. B. McKinnon

Meteorites: A Petrologic, Chemical and Isotopic Synthesis R. Hutchinson

The Origin of Chondrules and Chondrites D. W. G. Sears

Planetary Rings L. Esposito

The Geology of Mars: Evidence from Earth-Based Analogs M. Chapman

The Surface of Mars M. Carr

The Surface of Mars

U.S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, CA

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Michael H. Carr 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data

Carr, M. H. (Michael H.)
 The Surface of Mars / Michael H. Carr.
   p. cm. – (Cambridge planetary science)
 Includes bibliographical references and index.
 ISBN-13: 978-0-521-87201-0 (hardback)
 ISBN-10: 0-521-87201-4 (hardback)
 1. Mars (Planet)–Surface. I. Title. II. Series.
 QB641.C3632 2006

ISBN-13 978-0-521-87201-0 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-87201-4 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


Preface page ix
Maps xi
1 Overview 1
Telescopic observations 1
Orbital and rotational motions 2
Global structure and topography 5
Atmosphere 5
Surface temperatures 9
Stability of water 11
Global geology 14
Meteorites 19
 Carbonaceous chondrites and chemical fractionation 19
 Martian meteorites 20
 2 Impact craters 23
Crater-forming objects 23
Crater morphology 24
 Simple craters 24
 Complex craters 25
 Multi-ringed basins 26
Crater formation 27
Ejecta morphology 31
Crater modification 34
Crater size frequencies and ages 36
Summary 41
 3 Volcanism 43
Basaltic volcanism 43
Effect of Martian conditions 44
Tharsis 46
 Tharsis Montes 46
 Olympus Mons 51
 Alba Patera 54
 Small Tharsis shields 57
Elysium 59
 Lahars and dikes 60
Cerberus–Amazonis 64
Hellas–Hesperia 68
Plains volcanism 70
Volcano–ice interactions 73
Summary 74
 4 Global structure and tectonics 77
Formation of the core 77
Global dichotomy 78
Thickness of the lithosphere 84
Formation of Tharsis 84
Surface indicators of stress 86
 Extensional structures 86
 Compressional structures 89
 Deformational features related to Tharsis 90
 5 Canyons 95
Physiography 96
Canyon walls 102
Landslides 103
Interior layered deposits 105
Formation of the canyons 110
Summary 111
 6 Channels, valleys, and gullies 113
Outflow channels 113
 Circum-Chryse channels 114
  Description 114
  Mode of formation 116
 Tharsis 121
 Amazonis and Elysium Planitiae 122
  Description 122
  Mode of formation 126
 Utopia Planitia 127
 Hellas 129
 Argyre 130
 The poles 130
Valley networks 131
 General description 132
 Drainage basins 137
 Origin 139
  Noachian valleys 140
  Post-Noachian valleys 144
Gullies 144
Summary 147
 7 Lakes and oceans 149
Paleolakes in the cratered uplands 149
Argyre and Hellas 156
Northern oceans 160
 Shorelines 164
 Evidence for marine sediments 167
 Evidence for ice 168
 Possible fate of a northern ocean 168
Summary 171
 8 Ice 173
The stability of ice 174
Spectral evidence for ice 175
Permafrost 175
Ice-rich surficial deposits at high latitudes 177
Fretted terrain 178
 Terrain softening 179
 Lobate debris aprons 180
 Lineated valley fill 184
 Origin of the fretted valleys 185
Glaciers 187
Other possible indicators of ground ice 188
 Crater ejecta patterns 188
 Polygonal fractures 189
 Thermokarst 191
Summary 191
 9 Wind 193
Entrainment of particles by the wind 193
Dust storms 195
Wind streaks and tails 197
Dunes, ripples, and drifts 198
Regional eolian deposits 203
Wind erosion 204
Summary 205
10 Poles 211
The present polar environments 211
General description of polar terrains 212
Northern polar deposits 212
 Upper unit 212
 Basal unit 218
Southern polar deposits 221
 The Dorsa Argentea Formation 222
The CO 2 residual cap 225
Summary 226
11 The view from the surface 229
Vikings 1 and 2 229
Mars Pathfinder 231
Mars Exploration Rovers 231
 Spirit 232
  Gusev crater regional context 232
  Gusev plains 235
  Columbia Hills 238
   Clovis class 239
   Wishstone class 240
   Peace class 241
   Watchtower class 241
   Backstay class 242
 Opportunity 244
 Regional context 244
  The Meridiani rocks and soils 246
   The Burns Formation 246
   Post-depositional alteration 252
   Groundwater movement 253
   Evaporitic sources 254
Summary 254
12 Climate change 257
Noachian climate 257
Greenhouse warming 258
Retention of a dense CO 2 atmosphere 260
Post-Noachian climate history 262
Recent climate changes 265
Summary 265
13 Implications for life 267
The origin of life 268
Habitability 271
Survival 272
ALH84001 273
Looking for life 274
Summary 274
14 Summary 277
Reference 283
Index 297


This book summarizes our knowledge of the morphology of the martian surface and speculates on how the surface evolved to its present state. During the last three decades our knowledge of Mars has increased dramatically. A succession of orbiting spacecraft (Table 1) have observed the planet at ever-increasing resolution, rovers have traversed the surface, analyzing and scrutinizing rocks along the way, and ever more sophisticated techniques are being used to analyze increasing numbers of martian meteorites. The planet has had a complicated history. The aim of the book is to summarize our understanding of the nature and sequence of the processes that led to the present configuration of the surface. While the book is intended for the serious student or researcher, technical jargon is avoided to the extent that it is possible without compromising precision. It is hoped that the book will be readable to informed non-Mars specialists as well as those active in the field. Sufficient documentation is provided to enable the reader to dig more deeply wherever he or she wishes. Heavy reliance is placed on imaging data. Other evidence is referred to where available, but at the present time, imaging is by far the most comprehensive global data set that we have in terms of areal coverage and resolution range.

Exploration of Mars has captured world-wide interest. Mars is an alien planet yet not so alien as to be incomprehensible. The landscape is foreign yet we can still recognize familiar features such as volcanoes and river channels. We can transport ourselves through our surrogate rovers to a surface both strange and familiar and readily imagine some future explorers following in their paths. While past speculations about martian civilization may now seem absurd, the possibility that Mars may at one time have hosted some form of life remains plausible. It remains the strongest scientific driver of the Mars Exploration program. The life

Table I. Mars missions

Mariner 4 US 11/28/1964 Flew by 7/15/1965; first S/C images
Mariner 6 US 2/24/1969 Flew by 7/31/1969; imaging and other data
Mariner 7 US 3/27/1969 Flew by 8/5/1969; imaging and other data
Mars 2 USSR 5/19/1971 Crash landed; no surface data
Mars 3 USSR 5/28/1971 Crash landed; no surface data
Mariner 8 US 5/8/1971 Fell into Atlantic Ocean
Mariner 9 US 5/30/1971 Into orbit 11/3/1971; mapped planet
Mars 4 USSR 7/21/1973 Failed to achieve Mars orbit
Mars 5 USSR 7/25/1973 Into orbit 2/12/1975; imaging and other data
Mars 6 USSR 8/5/1973 Crash landed
Mars 7 USSR 8/9/1973 Flew by Mars
Viking 1 US 8/20/1975 Landed on surface 7/20/1976; orbiter mapping
Viking 2 US 9/9/1975 Landed on surface 9/3/1976; orbiter mapping
Phobos 1 USSR 7/7/1988 Lost 9/2/1988
Phobos 2 USSR 7/12/1988 Mars and Phobos remote sensing
Mars Observer US 9/22/1992 Failed Mars orbit insertion
Pathfinder US 12/4/1996 Landed 7/4/1997; lander and rover
Global Surveyor US 11/7/1996 Into orbit 9/11/1997; imaging and other data
Odyssey US 4/7/2001 Into orbit 10/24/2001: imaging, remote sensing
Spirit Rover US 6/10/2003 Landed in Gusev 1/3/2004
Opportunity Rover US 7/7/2003 Landed in Meridiani 1/24/2004
Mars Express Europe 6/2/2003 In orbit 12/25/2003; imaging, remote sensing
Reconnaissance Orbiter US 8/12/2005 In orbit 3/10/2006; imaging, remote sensing

theme is constantly in the background throughout the book. Impacts have implications for survival of any early life, and may have resulted in cross-fertilization of Mars and Earth. Large floods may have temporarily affected global climates and provided temporary refuges in the resulting lakes and seas. Volcanic activity may have created hydrothermal systems in which life could thrive. Conditions on early Mars may have been very similar to those on early Earth, at a time when life had already taken hold. Thus, while the book is not explicitly about life, almost every chapter has implications for the topic.

The book is intended as a replacement for an earlier book (Carr, 1981) that summarized our understanding of the planet as it was shortly after completion of the Viking missions. This book is different from the original in several ways. The field was much less mature when the first book was written. I was able to read most of the literature and examine most of the imaging data. Neither of these tasks is possible any longer. Approximately 500 papers are published on Mars each year and the number is increasing. One can no more write a book about Mars and reference all the relevant papers, than one can about the Earth. Similarly, the book has been written without seeing most of the available imaging.

Over 200,000 images have been taken just with the Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global Surveyor, and a comparable amount of imaging data has been acquired by THEMIS on Mars Odyssey, the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express, and the Mars rovers. In addition to the imaging there are vast amounts of other remote sensing data, as well as analytical data from the surface and from meteorites. Clearly, summarizing all this data has involved a great deal of simplification.

The book is a snapshot of a moving picture. Following Viking there was almost a twenty-year drought during which barely any data was returned from the planet. But since the landing of Mars Pathfinder in 1996 and the insertion of Mars Global Surveyor into orbit in 1997, we have been receiving a steady stream. Along with the new data have come new ideas as to how the planet has evolved. The pace of change is rapid because our knowledge of the planet is still rudimentary and the data flux is high. It could be argued that the time is inopportune for a summary because of the rate of change. But change will continue. After two decades, new interpretations of the Viking data were still forthcoming. It will likely also take decades to digest the data currently being returned. I hope that there will never be a time when the field stabilizes and a good time to write a summary arrives.

The book was written in 2005 and 2006. I had just retired after having participated in almost every mission to Mars since the late 1960s, including several months of Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) operations at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The book has benefited significantly from the continuous informal science discussions that are part of participating in missions. The Mars Rover end-of-day discussions, when the scientists would gather and exchange ideas about any topic that had intrigued them, were particularly stimulating. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) team on Mars Global Surveyor held regular meetings on different science topics that were always fun. Of course, the book has benefited mostly from the engineers who have built and operated the spacecraft that have flown all the science instruments to Mars in recent years. Without sound engineering there is no science. The engineers do most of the hard work acquiring the data. The scientists have the fun of interpreting it all.

Two people deserve special mention for the help they provided. Phil Christensen, of Arizona State University, the THEMIS Principal Investigator, offered to make mosaics of areas of interest for illustrations. Some of the most spectacular images in the book are these THEMIS mosaics. Jim Head of Brown University is also a major contributor to the book. Jim has unusually broad expertise in planetary science, and is possibly the most prolific author in the field of planetary geology. He agreed to review all the chapters as they were written and provided numerous insightful comments that added greatly to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the final product. Above all he provided encouragement to keep at it.

Michael H. Carr
U. S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA

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