Steep slopes on Mars reveal structure of buried ice

Mindy Sparks
January 13, 2018

The ice was likely deposited as snow long ago. The exposed deposit of water ice is more than 100 meters thick.

Finding water or ice on Mars is becoming fairly commonplace these days, but this is a new one: researchers are reporting that they've spotted tall cliffs, up to 100 metres (328 feet) high, made of almost pure water ice in several locations on Mars!

A team led by USGS scientist Colin Dundas used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which identified eight locations on the Red Planet which have steep, pole-facing cliffs, some as high as 325 feet that reveals slabs of clear ice, exposed by the forces of erosion.

The discovery is particularly exciting for future human exploration of the planet previously renowned for its dry arid landscape.

Although scientists have previously known of ice on Mars, the new discovery shows just how big the ice sheets can get, with some extending 300 feet below Mars's surface, the report said. Because the ice is only visible where surface soil has been removed, Dundas et al. say it is likely that ice near the surface is even more extensive than detected in this study.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. Since there are few craters on the surface at these sites, the authors propose that the ice was formed relatively recently.

The study relied on images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying the planet's atmosphere and terrain since 2006. "You don't see a high-tech solution", planetary scientist Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a co-author of the study in the journal Science, said.

A close-up of the false colour portion of the above image, focusing in on the scarp to reveal the details. The sheer size of the ice sheets could help scientists better understand the history of Mars and its climate, NASA said. This makes these sites very valuable, for the climate science they contain locked away in their layers, and as a potential water source for when humans eventually land on Mars, and attempt to establish colonies there.

"Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you".

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