Mars chronology: Assessing techniques for quantifying surficial processes

Peter T. Doran, Stephen M. Clifford, Steven L. Forman, Larry Nyquist, Dimitri A. Papanastassiou, Brian W. Stewart, Neil C. Sturchio, Timothy D. Swindle, Thure Cerling, Jeff Kargel, Gene McDonald, Kunihiko Nishiizumi, Robert Poreda, James W. Rice, Ken Tanaka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Currently, the absolute chronology of Martian rocks, deposits and events is based mainly on crater counting and remains highly imprecise with epoch boundary uncertainties in excess of 2 billion years. Answers to key questions concerning the comparative origin and evolution of Mars and Earth will not be forthcoming without a rigid Martian chronology, enabling the construction of a time scale comparable to Earth's. Priorities for exploration include calibration of the cratering rate, dating major volcanic and fluvial events and establishing chronology of the polar layered deposits. If extinct and/or extant life is discovered, the chronology of the biosphere will be of paramount importance. Many radiometric and cosmogenic techniques applicable on Earth and the Moon will apply to Mars after certain baselines (e.g. composition of the atmosphere, trace species, chemical and physical characteristics of Martian dust) are established. The high radiation regime may pose a problem for dosimetry-based techniques (e.g. luminescence). The unique isotopic composition of nitrogen in the Martian atmosphere may permit a Mars-specific chronometer for tracing the time-evolution of the atmosphere and of lithic phases with trapped atmospheric gases. Other Mars-specific chronometers include measurement of gas fluxes and accumulation of platinum group elements (PGE) in the regolith. Putting collected samples into geologic context is deemed essential, as is using multiple techniques on multiple samples. If in situ measurements are restricted to a single technique it must be shown to give consistent results on multiple samples, but in all cases, using two or more techniques (e.g. on the same lander) will reduce error. While there is no question that returned samples will yield the best ages, in situ techniques have the potential to be flown on multiple missions providing a larger data set and broader context in which to place the more accurate dates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-337
Number of pages25
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Chronology
  • Dating
  • Mars
  • Surficial processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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