Episodic flood inundations of the northern plains of Mars

Alberto G. Fairén, James M. Dohm, Victor R. Baker, Miguel A. de Pablo, Javier Ruiz, Justin C. Ferris, Robert C. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


Throughout the recorded history of Mars, liquid water has distinctly shaped its landscape, including the prominent circum-Chryse and the northwestern slope valleys outflow channel systems, and the extremely flat northern plains topography at the distal reaches of these outflow channel systems. Paleotopographic reconstructions of the Tharsis magmatic complex reveal the existence of an Europe-sized Noachian drainage basin and subsequent aquifer system in eastern Tharsis. This basin is proposed to have sourced outburst floodwaters that sculpted the outflow channels, and ponded to form various hypothesized oceans, seas, and lakes episodically through time. These floodwaters decreased in volume with time due to inadequate groundwater recharge of the Tharsis aquifer system. Martian topography, as observed from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, corresponds well to these ancient flood inundations, including the approximated shorelines that have been proposed for the northern plains. Stratigraphy, geomorphology, and topography record at least one great Noachian-Early Hesperian northern plains ocean, a Late Hesperian sea inset within the margin of the high water marks of the previous ocean, and a number of widely distributed minor lakes that may represent a reduced Late Hesperian sea, or ponded waters in the deepest reaches of the northern plains related to minor Tharsis- and Elysium-induced Amazonian flooding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-67
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Lakes
  • Mars
  • Oceans
  • Tharsis floods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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