The Oldest Highlands of Mars May Be Massive Dust Fallout Deposits

J. Alexis P. Rodriguez, Eldar Noe Dobrea, Jeffrey S. Kargel, V. R. Baker, David A. Crown, Kevin D. Webster, Daniel C. Berman, Mary Beth Wilhelm, Denise Buckner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The oldest terrains of Mars are cratered landscapes, in which extensive valleys and basins are covered by ubiquitous fluvial plains. One current paradigm maintains that an impact-generated megaregolith underlies these sediments. This megaregolith was likely largely generated during the Early Noachian (~4.1 to ~3.94 Ga) when most Martian impact basins formed. We examined the geologic records of NW Hellas and NW Isidis, which include this epoch’s most extensive circum-basin outcrops. Here, we show that these regions include widespread, wind-eroded landscapes, crater rims eroded down by several hundred meters, pitted plains, and inverted fluvial and crater landforms. These surfaces exhibit few fresh craters, indicating geologically recent wind erosion. The deep erosion, topographic inversions, and an absence of dunes on or near talus across these regions suggest that sediments finer than sand compose most of these highland materials. We propose that basin-impact-generated hurricane-force winds created sediment-laden atmospheric conditions, and that muddy rains rapidly settled suspended sediments to construct extensive Early Noachian highlands. The implied high abundance of fine-grained sediments before these impacts suggests large-scale glacial silt production and supports the previously proposed Noachian “icy highlands” hypothesis. We suggest that subglacial meltwater interactions with the sedimentary highlands could have promoted habitability, particularly in clay strata.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10347
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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