Integrating radar stratigraphy with high resolution visible stratigraphy of the north polar layered deposits, Mars

S. Christian, J. W. Holt, S. Byrne, K. E. Fishbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Shallow Radar (SHARAD) on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has successfully detected tens of reflectors in the subsurface of the north polar layered deposits (NPLD) of Mars. Radar reflections are hypothesized to originate from the same material interfaces that result in visible layering. As a first step towards verifying this assumption, this study uses signal analyses and geometric comparisons to quantitatively examine the relationship between reflectors and visible layers exposed in an NPLD outcrop. To understand subsurface structures and reflector geometry, reflector surfaces have been gridded in three dimensions, taking into account the influence of surface slopes to obtain accurate subsurface geometries. These geometries reveal reflector dips that are consistent with optical layer slopes. Distance-elevation profiling of subsurface reflectors and visible layer boundaries reveals that reflectors and layers demonstrate similar topography, verifying that reflectors represent paleosurfaces of the deposit. Statistical and frequency-domain analyses of the separation distances between successive layers and successive reflectors confirms the agreement of radar reflector spacing with characteristic spacing of certain visible layers. Direct elevation comparisons between individual reflectors and discrete optical layers, while necessary for a one-to-one correlation, are complicated by variations in subsurface structure that exist between the outcrop and the SHARAD observations, as inferred from subsurface mapping. Although these complications have prevented a unique correlation, a genetic link between radar reflectors and visible layers has been confirmed, validating the assumption that radar reflectors can be used as geometric proxies for visible stratigraphy. Furthermore, the techniques for conducting a stratigraphic integration have been generalized and improved so that the integration can be undertaken at additional locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1241-1251
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Mars
  • Mars, Polar caps
  • Mars, Polar geology
  • Radar observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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