Martian Fluvial Flows, Placid and Catastrophic

Mars lost most of its magnetic field about four billion years ago (ours is doing fine, thanks to a massive nuclear reactor below our feet, keeping extremely fluid a titanic ocean of iron upon which Earth’s mantle floats…).

As a result, solar wind and cosmic radiation have since not been deflected from hitting the Red Planet straight on. Instead, this terrible radiation interacts by direct slashing impact with the Martian ionosphere. We now know this happens mostly during the horrendous, but frequent, Coronal Mass Ejections. This constant whipping keeps the atmosphere much thinner than it would otherwise be as the solar wind action constantly tears away atoms from the outer atmosphere.

Before the loss of (most of) the magnetic field, it’s considered that there was an ocean of water, on Mars. And there were massive water flows, dwarfing anything ever found on Earth. Here is Kasei Valles:

.Mars Kasei Valles

The area shown a above is three times the area of France. The altitude differences are of the order of 6 kilometers between highest (red) and the lowest (blue) terrain…

Should that be true, the possibility of life having started on Mars is very high. As Mars cooled faster than Earth, it’s possible that Martian life appeared hundreds of millions earlier than life on Earth. And that this life on Earth was actually Martian life, transported by impacts.

After that, the planet died.

Still, it’s mysterious: periodically its rotation axis tilts to 40 (forty) degrees. Then poles melt, and the atmosphere thickens…Could then temperature jump up? Could that explain the water flows observed on Mars (we know they are water flow, because, thanks to a French made laser on board Martian robot Curiosity, thousands of rocks have been blasted and their chemistry revealed!)

So what about those massive flows on Mars?

The massive flows seem to have happened 3,700 million years ago, during the early Hesperian.
We know this by crater counts). Methinks that there was then water on Mars surface. Water, and ice. Massive outflows have happened on Earth as recently as 18,000 years ago (Younger Dryas, etc.) When massive glacial dams released oceanic sized sweet water lakes.

I simply think that’s simply what happened on Mars. Simple is beautiful…

Our friend Ian Miller, a research scientist with a long career, proposes a completely different mechanism, the science of which is beyond mine. If nothing else, this contrast between my hare brained simplicity in this matter, and Ian’s sophistication, shows the rich possibilities that working scientists have to consider, when trying to push science forward. And, by the way, even “failed” scientific models can be very useful (actually most ancient scientific models have “failed”, more or less… As they were replaced by more advanced science)

Scienta: fluctuat, nec mergitur!
Science is agitated by the waves, but does not sink!
Patrice Ayme’


Despite the fact that, apart localized dust surfaces in summer, the surface of Mars has had average temperatures that never exceeded about minus 50 degrees C over its lifetime, it also has had some quite unexpected fluid systems. One of the longest river systems starts in several places at approximately 60 degrees south in the highlands, nominally one of the coldest spots on Mars, and drains into Argyre, thence to the Holden and Ladon Valles, then stops and apparently dropped massive amounts of ice in the Margaritifer Valles, which are at considerably lower altitude and just north of the equator. Why does a river start at one of the coldest places on Mars, and freeze out at one of the warmest? There is evidence of ice having been in the fluid, which means the fluid must have been water. (Water is extremely unusual in that the solid, ice, floats in…

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One Response to “Martian Fluvial Flows, Placid and Catastrophic”

  1. Ian Miller Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Patrice. The bracketed piece in the first para is quite poetic. Well done. In my opinion, Mars has a negligible iron core. The density of Mars is about 3.8, which is the upper end of basalts, and even on Mars, the pressure will compress rock into its highest density stable form. During accretion, lumps of iron would also carry a lot of radioactive material that is soluble in it, so Mars probably missed out there too.

    I agree life may well have tried to get started on Mars, but the fluid systems appeared to not have lasted more than about 300,000 years in any one place, and I am not convinced that is enough time, but hopefully if we send people there we shall get an answer to that. I really think (or hope) that there may well be a roadmap there of various starts of life that got so far and stopped, but at different places. And yes, I agree – not only is simple beautiful, but I rather think nature’s principles are simple, although they can get complicated when there are multiple things happening.

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