USC researchers discover new evidence of deep groundwater on Mars

July 2, 2019

Research from the USC Arid Climate and Water Research Center suggests deep groundwater on Mars could still be active and creating surface streams in some near-equatorial areas on the planet.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, suggests groundwater might be deeper than previously thought in areas where such streams are observed on Mars.

Researchers supported by the Italian Space Agency detected the presence of a deep-water lake on Mars in mid-2018 under its south polar ice caps. Now, the researchers at USC have determined that groundwater likely exists in a broader geographical area than just the poles of Mars and that there is an active system as deep as 2460 feet from which groundwater comes to the surface through cracks in the specific craters they analyzed.

USC research scientist Essam Heggy, a member of the Mars Express sounding radar experiment MARSIS probing the Mars subsurface, and coauthor Abotalib Z. Abotalib, a postdoctoral research associate at USC, studied the characteristics of the planet’s recurring slope lineae, which are akin to dried, short streams of water that appear on some crater walls.

Scientists previously thought these features were affiliated with surface water flow or close subsurface water flow, said Heggy, who added that the new research suggests that may not be true.

“We propose an alternative hypothesis that they originate from a deep pressurized groundwater source which comes to the surface moving upward along ground cracks,” he said.

Abotalib, the paper’s first author, noted that their research in desert hydrology helped lead to this conclusion.

“We have seen the same mechanisms in the North African Sahara and in the Arabian Peninsula, and it helped us explore the same mechanism on Mars,” he said.

The two scientists concluded that fractures within some of Mars’ craters enabled water springs to rise up to the surface as a result of pressure deep below. These springs leaked onto the surface, generating the sharp and distinct linear features found on the walls of those craters.

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