Modeling the development of martian sublimation thermokarst landforms

Colin M. Dundas, Shane Byrne, Alfred S. McEwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Sublimation-thermokarst landforms result from collapse of the surface when ice is lost from the subsurface. On Mars, scalloped landforms with scales of decameters to kilometers are observed in the mid-latitudes and considered likely thermokarst features. We describe a landscape evolution model that couples diffusive mass movement and subsurface ice loss due to sublimation. Over periods of tens of thousands of Mars years under conditions similar to the present, the model produces scallop-like features similar to those on the martian surface, starting from much smaller initial disturbances. The model also indicates crater expansion when impacts occur in surfaces underlain by excess ice to some depth, with morphologies similar to observed landforms on the martian northern plains. In order to produce these landforms by sublimation, substantial quantities of excess ice are required, at least comparable to the vertical extent of the landform, and such ice must remain in adjacent terrain to support the non-deflated surface. We suggest that martian thermokarst features are consistent with formation by sublimation, without melting, and that significant thicknesses of very clean excess ice (up to many tens of meters, the depth of some scalloped depressions) are locally present in the martian mid-latitudes. Climate conditions leading to melting at significant depth are not required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-169
Number of pages16
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Geological processes
  • Mars climate
  • Mars surface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling the development of martian sublimation thermokarst landforms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this