Examination of gully sites on Mars with the shallow radar

Daniel Cahn Nunes, Suzanne E. Smrekar, Ali Safaeinili, John Holt, Roger J. Phillips, Roberto Seu, Bruce Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Martian gullies, found on steep slopes along broad mid-latitudinal bands, have morphologies resembling those of water-carved gullies on Earth and have been dated to <10 Ma. As such, one of the leading hypotheses, though not unique, is that martian gullies formed by the flow of liquid water in the very recent geologic past. Since the permittivity of liquid water is about one order of magnitude higher than that of most silicates, it is plausible that subsurface geologic interfaces involving liquid water may be detected via ground penetrating radar. We have surveyed a substantive portion of the martian gully population with data from the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument, on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), in search of strong subsurface radar reflections indicative of the presence of liquid water reservoirs, which would serve as sources to the flows occurring within gullies. No such reflections are found at most of the locations surveyed, suggesting that either liquid water is not likely present in detectable amounts or that the shallow martian subsurface is unusually electrically conductive (i.e., lossy) at all of the locations examined. Strong subsurface reflections occur in the vicinity of gullies at two locations in the northern lowlands: Arcadia and southeastern Utopia Planitiae. In both cases, the reflectors occur at a range in depth of 45 to 90 m, considering a range in permittivity of 3 to 10, and -20 to -30 dB weaker than the surface reflection. In the case or Arcadia, the reflector corresponds to the eastern edge of Plaut et al.'s (2009) extensive radar subsurface unit; in both Arcadia and Utopia we interpret the reflectors as ground ice. Though our results offer a general assessment of the gully population, SHARAD is continuing its survey of gully rich locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE10004
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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