Does the South Martian Pole Have A Buried Lake?

 

“Our computer model results and the radar data make it much more likely that at least one area of subglacial liquid water exists on Mars today, and that Mars must still be geothermally active in order to keep the water liquid beneath the South Pole ice cap.” 

— Professor Neil Arnold, Ph.D., Interim Director, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University, U.K.

 

Mars has frigid polar ice caps. But the South Pole could have an underground liquid lake hiding under the ice. Mars 2019 image by NASA, ESA and STSci.
Mars has frigid polar ice caps. But the South Pole could have a 20-kilometer-wide underground liquid lake hiding under the ice. Mars 2019 image by NASA, ESA and STSci.

 

October 2, 2022 Cambridge, England –  An international team of researchers, led by Neil Arnold, M.A. and Ph.D., Interim Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)  and Fellow at St. John’s College, U. K. have published new evidence in the journal Nature Astronomy about the possible existence of liquid water beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars.

Dr. Neil Arnold, M.A. and Ph.D., Interim Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI)  and Fellow at St. John's College, U. K.
Dr. Neil Arnold, M.A. and Ph.D., Interim Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) , University of Cambridge, and Fellow at St. John’s College, U. K.
Mars at Ls 211°: South Polar Region. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
South Pole of Mars at Ls 211°. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.

Bright radar reflections observed in the Ultimi Scopuli region of layered deposits in the Martian south pole layered deposits — observed by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument —  have been interpreted by Dr. Arnold and his team as the signature of areas of subglacial water beneath it. Other studies offer alternative explanations, which do not imply the presence of liquid water.

 

First Independent Data Suggesting Liquid Water Beneath the Martian South Pole

This is the south polar cap of Mars as it appeared to the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on April 17, 2000. In winter and early spring, this entire scene would be covered by frost. In summer, the cap shrinks to its minimum size, as shown here. Even though it is summer, observations made by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s showed that the south polar cap remains cold enough that the polar frost (seen here as white) consists of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide freezes at temperatures around -125° C (-193° F). The polar cap from left to right is about 420 km (260 mi) across. Image by NASA Mars Global Surveyor (MGS).

But now Dr. Arnold and his colleagues look at the surface topography of the region using spacecraft laser-altimeter measurements of the contoured shape of the upper surface of the ice cap to identify subtle patterns in its height.

“On Earth, reduced or absent basal friction, and consequent ice velocity changes, cause a distinct topographic signature over subglacial lakes. Using Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data, we identify and characterize an anomaly in the surface topography of the south polar layered deposits overlying the area of the putative lakes, similar to those found above terrestrial subglacial lakes of similar size. Ice flow model results suggest that comparable topographic anomalies form within 0.5–1.5 Myr with locally elevated geothermal heating or 2–5 Myr without elevated geothermal heating.  These findings offer independent support for the presence of basal water beneath Ultimi Scopuli and suggest that surface topography could supplement radar returns to help identify other potential subglacial water bodies.”

Their results agree with earlier ice-penetrating radar measurements that were originally interpreted to show a potential area of liquid water beneath the ice. There has been debate over the liquid water interpretation from the radar data alone, with some studies suggesting the radar signal is not due to liquid water.

The new results, reported in the September 29, 2022, journal Nature Astronomy, provide the first independent line of evidence, using data other than radar, that there is liquid water beneath Mars’ south polar ice cap.

Also see:

— Mysterious White Spot in Martian Sky and Surprising Methane Spike On the Red Planet:  https://www.earthfiles.com/2019/06/25/a-mysterious-white-spot-in-martian-sky-and-surprising-methane-spike-on-the-red-planet/


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Websites:

Scott Polar Research Institute:   https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/people/arnold/

Nature Astronomy, September 29, 2022, “Surface Topographic Impact of Subglacial Water Beneath the South Polar Ice Cap of Mars”:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-022-01782-0

Searching for Life On Mars:  https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/multimedia/videos/?v=492


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