A cold hydrological system in Gale crater, Mars

Alberto G. Fairén, Chris R. Stokes, Neil S. Davies, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, J. Alexis P. Rodríguez, Alfonso F. Davila, Esther R. Uceda, James M. Dohm, Victor R. Baker, Stephen M. Clifford, Christopher P. McKay, Steven W. Squyres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Gale crater is a ~154-km-diameter impact crater formed during the Late Noachian/Early Hesperian at the dichotomy boundary on Mars. Here we describe potential evidence for ancient glacial, periglacial and fluvial (including glacio-fluvial) activity within Gale crater, and the former presence of ground ice and lakes. Our interpretations are derived from morphological observations using high-resolution datasets, particularly HiRISE and HRSC. We highlight a potential ancient lobate rock-glacier complex in parts of the northern central mound, with further suggestions of glacial activity in the large valley systems towards the southeast central mound. Wide expanses of ancient ground ice may be indicated by evidence for very cohesive ancient river banks and for the polygonal patterned ground common on the crater floor west of the central mound. We extend the interpretation to fluvial and lacustrine activity to the west of the central mound, as recorded by a series of interconnected canyons, channels and a possible lake basin. The emerging picture from our regional landscape analyses is the hypothesis that rock glaciers may have formerly occupied the central mound. The glaciers would have provided the liquid water required for carving the canyons and channels. Associated glaciofluvial activity could have led to liquid water running over ground ice-rich areas on the basin floor, with resultant formation of partially and/or totally ice-covered lakes in parts of the western crater floor. All this hydrologic activity is Hesperian or younger. Following this, we envisage a time of drying, with the generation of polygonal patterned ground and dune development subsequent to the disappearance of the surface liquid and frozen water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-118
Number of pages18
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Fluvial erosion
  • Gale crater
  • Glacial/periglacial modification
  • Glacio-fluvial activity
  • Ground ice
  • Mars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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