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Abstract

Images of distant and unknown places have long stimulated the imaginations of both explorers and scientists. The atlas of photographs collected during the Hayden (1872) expedition to the Yellowstone region was essential to its successful advocacy and selection in 1872 as America’s first national park. Photographer William Henry Jackson of the Hayden expedition captured the public’s imagination and support, returning home with a treasure of images that confirmed the existence of western landmarks previously regarded as glorified myths: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful, and strange pools of boiling hot mud. Fifty years later, photographer Ansel Adams began his long legacy of providing the public with compilations of iconic images of natural wonders that many only see in prints.

Photography in space has provided its own bounty. Who can forget the first image of Earthrise taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 from Apollo 8; the solemnity of the first photos of the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 astronauts; and the startling discovery of the tallest mountain in the solar system (Olympus Mons) on the surface of Mars in images sent from Mariner 9? The images from Mariner 9 also allowed for a game-changing discovery. Earlier, based on very limited Mariner 4 data that covered less than 10% of the planet’s surface, Chapman et al. (1968) speculated that “If substantial aqueous erosion features—such as river valleys— were produced during earlier epochs of Mars, we should not expect any trace of them to be visible

“There are no foreign lands. It is only the traveler who is foreign”

—Robert Louis Stevenson

Introduction

Images of distant and unknown places have long stimulated the imaginations of both explorers and scientists. The atlas of photographs collected during the Hayden (1872) expedition to the Yellowstone region was essential to its successful advocacy and selection in 1872 as America’s first national park. Photographer William Henry Jackson of the Hayden expedition captured the public’s imagination and support, returning home with a treasure of images that confirmed the existence of western landmarks previously regarded as glorified myths: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful, and strange pools of boiling hot mud. Fifty years later, photographer Ansel Adams began his long legacy of providing the public with compilations of iconic images of natural wonders that many only see in prints.

Photography in space has provided its own bounty. Who can forget the first image of Earthrise taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 from Apollo 8; the solemnity of the first photos of the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 astronauts; and the startling discovery of the tallest mountain in the solar system (Olympus Mons) on the surface of Mars in images sent from Mariner 9? The images from Mariner 9 also allowed for a game-changing discovery. Earlier, based on very limited Mariner 4 data that covered less than 10% of the planet’s surface, Chapman et al. (1968) speculated that “If substantial aqueous erosion features—such as river valleys— were produced during earlier epochs of Mars, we should not expect any trace of them to be visible on the Mariner IV photographs unless they were of greater extent than typical features on Earth.” Mapping a much greater part of the planet, Mariner 9 provided the first evidence of such spectacular features and ushered in the modern era of understanding Mars in the context of its aqueous history. Our understanding of the ways in which terrestrial planetary surfaces evolve through time was transformed by the notion that Mars may have been warmer or wetter at some point in the past.

Almost three decades later, this first evidence for aqueous erosion of bedrock on Mars was finally matched by evidence for deposition of aqueous sedimentary materials (Malin and Edgett 2000). The identification of “layered terrains” thought to be of sedimentary origin on Mars is regarded as a major discovery. Observations of erosion in one place require, naturally, that deposition of the eroded materials occurs elsewhere, so this discovery was not so much surprising as exciting. Unlike erosion, deposition records a time series of past events and can thus be analyzed as a record of environmental history. Furthermore, the state of preservation of these outcrops suggests a past cycle of erosion and deposition, followed by erosion of the deposited sediments. Evaluation and understanding of the Martian “rock cycle,” which is very different from Earth’s, are some of the major objectives of the next decade of Mars research, and the study of sedimentary rocks is central to this theme (McLennan and Grotzinger 2008, Grotzinger et al. 2011).

The most recent image data of the surface of Mars show that there are at least several types of distinct layered deposits that are consistent with a sedimentary origin. In some cases, they form vast, laterally extensive sheets that cover the ancient cratered terrains and fill topographic depressions such as impact craters. The spectacular images in this atlas present just a tiny fraction of the material that exists for further study and examination. This atlas is not intended to capture all of this diversity, but rather to illustrate some of the most important end members defined by representative exposures, some of which might be viewed as key “reference” sections (see Grotzinger and Milliken this volume). Our selections of sedimentary deposits fall into several very broad categories based on the environment in which these outcrops are found today (Table 1). These categories include: (1) underfilled crater interiors, (2) overfilled crater interiors, (3) chasm/canyon units, (4) plains-covering deposits, (5) very ancient terrain, and (6) polar deposits.

Table 1.

Classification of sedimentary deposits on Mars.

Determining the ages of rocks and units on Mars is problematic due to our inability to age-date samples. However, Scott and Carr (1978) were the first to establish three general time-stratigraphic periods, Noachian, Hesperian, and Amazonian, which were further refined into eight epochs and assigned relative ages based on the traditional principles of superposition and intersection, as well as the size-frequency distribution of impact craters (Tanaka 1986, Tanaka et al. 1992). The connection to absolute ages was further refined by Hartmann and Neukum (2001): the Noachian Period stretches from the beginning of Martian time to 3.6 ±0.1 Ga, the Hesperian Period from 3.6 to 3.1 ±0.6 Ga, and the Amazonian from 3.1 Ga to the present (Hartmann 2005, Fassett and Head 2008, Tanaka and Hartmann 2008). More details on the Martian time scale can be found in Grotzinger and Milliken (this volume).

Underfilled crater interiors contain sediments that are interpreted not to have exceeded the volume of their host crater. This category is further subdivided into deposits that exhibit distinct fan morphologies (e.g., Eberswalde crater delta, Holden crater alluvial deposits, and the Xanthe Terra terraced fans), and those that do not (e.g., Columbus crater deposits). Although the putative sublacustrine fans in Melas Chasma (Metz et al. 2009) are within the Valles Marineris and not a crater, they are better grouped in this category, which includes other fan morphologies, because the fluvial system that created the Melas deposits is well expressed.

Overfilled crater interiors are those with stratified deposits that reside primarily within a crater but rise close to or above the current elevation of the crater’s rim. While there is no straightforward explanation for these deposits, they may be remnants of once-larger deposits that both filled the craters and extended beyond to blanket the surrounding plateaus. Many of these deposits occur as tall mounds near the center of the crater, surrounded by a lower elevation “moat.” The specific erosional processes that would have scoured away the surrounding deposits and denuded nearly down to the crater floor while allowing an isolated mound to be preserved are currently unknown. The Gale crater mound, the layered deposits in Terby crater, the Henry crater layered mound, and the stratified deposits in Galle crater all exhibit this remnant high-standing topography and may provide evidence for formerly extensive deposits that had greater lateral extent than that currently preserved.

Chasmata and canyons on Mars provide topographic lows and often closed basins in which sediments can accumulate, and their deposits are often similar to those found in craters. The Martian chasmata of Valles Marineris are very large and extensive, providing a vast setting to test a variety of sedimentary hypotheses. Tectonics have played a role in the geologic history here, from the activity that may have formed the chasmata themselves, to other tectonic forces that caused deformation of the sedimentary deposits observed within those chasmata. We divide the sedimentary deposits in the Valles Marineris into those that have not been tectonically disrupted (deposits in Ophir, Melas, Juventae, and Ganges Chasmata) and those that have, like the west Candor Chasma deformed layered deposits (Metz et al. 2010, Okubo 2010).

Plains-covering deposits include complex sequences of stratified units that vary widely from place to place over the surface of Mars. Volcanism, sedimentation, and fluvial action have all played a role in the formation of these terrains. Unique features among these terrain units are the plateaus surrounding the large canyons of Valles Marineris, which exhibit layered exposures not seen elsewhere (Milliken et al. 2008, Weitz et al. 2010). These sediments might be the evidence of fluvial systems that either existed prior to the chasma openings or those that acted as overland flows for systems (e.g., Mangold et al. 2004) that ultimately drained into these giant cavities.

Other very ancient terrains consist of the oldest identifiable portions of the Martian crust (from the Martian Noachian Period), which, in many cases, have been altered by a variety of chemical and physical processes. This ancient crust contains numerous deposits with clay minerals (e.g., Bibring et al. 2006, Murchie et al. 2009b), the presence of which indicates water–rock interaction either on the surface or in the subsurface. Although the specific timing and duration of this alteration are unknown, our knowledge of the diversity of clay minerals on Mars has increased dramatically over the past several years, and it is beginning to rival that of Earth. The ancient terrain consists of layered rocks, many of which are presumably sedimentary in origin, but it also hosts many deposits that lack clear stratification. These deposits may represent primary crust, thick deposits of crater ejecta, or regions that have been heavily altered by hydrothermal processes. The ancient crust on Mars is complex in both its morphology and mineralogy, but it is clear that sedimentary processes are recorded in the Martian rock record to at least 4 billion years before present, and likely longer. This makes Mars a particularly interesting and possibly unique place for understanding the role of aqueous and sedimentary processes in the earliest history of the Solar System.

In addition to areally extensive sequences of stratified deposits, very ancient terrains on Mars are also characterized by craters in which central uplifts occasionally exhibit large, layered structural blocks brought up from depth during the crater formation process. These deep layers may be a way to sample Martian geologic history from the distant past that would otherwise remain buried. In the Southern Highlands, many of these central uplifts contain clay minerals that are indicative of aqueous alteration of primary crust, possibly as a result of deep alteration within the ancient crust (Murchie et al. 2009a).

Polar deposits at both the north and south Martian poles exhibit a variety of ice and dust layering sequences that likely encode the recent variability of Martian climate. Polar layered deposits were first recognized in Mariner 9 images (Murray et al. 1972) and motivated theoretical studies of climate changes on Mars (Ward 1974, 1979; Bills 1990; Touma and Wisdom 1993). The tilt of the rotational axis and eccentricity of the orbits of both Earth and Mars have undergone periodic variations due to gravitational interactions with the other planets, but the amplitude of these variations is much greater on Mars. Because these orbital/axial changes are known to cause climate changes (ice ages) on Earth, they are expected to cause even greater climate variability on Mars (e.g., Head et al. 2003). More recent observations have shown that the polar layered deposits are ice-rich, with less sediment than previously thought (Byrne 2009).

This atlas is largely based on image data obtained by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE; McEwen et al. 2007) on board the Mars ReconnaissanceOrbiter (MRO). This camera has allowed for a more detailed examination of the Martian surface than previous imagers, providing images at 25 cm/pixel scale, with a swath width of about 6 km. HiRISE images and digital terrain models (DTMs) can be obtained from http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu. In addition, other image data for Mars can be found at National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Planetary Data System (PDS) at http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov. This atlas includes some images from the Context Camera (CTX; Malin et al. 2007) on MRO. CTX acquires grayscale images of Mars with a spatial scale of approximately 6 m/pixel, and a swath width of about 30 km. There are also data from the Shallow Radar (SHARAD; Seu et al. 2007) instrument on MRO. This atlas discusses mineralogical data from hyperspectral mapping instruments such as the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM; Murchie et al. 2007) and the Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA; Bibring et al. 2004). These hyperspectral imaging systems measure the sunlight reflected off of the surface over visible and near-infrared wavelengths, providing important information about the types and distributions of primary and secondary minerals across the Martian surface.

The goal of this atlas is to provide a pictorial sampling of the diversity of Martian “layered terrains,” which are increasingly regarded to have formed through the action of sedimentary processes. Our hope is that these images will motivate the reader to further pursue their own investigations.

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Acknowledgments

This work has made use of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astrophysics Data System and the US Geological Survey’s Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers (ISIS). This material is based upon work supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under awards issued through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter program. The authors would like to thank Ken Tanaka and Jenny Blue for their early review of the draft manuscript. The authors thank Paul Harris and Joe Michalski for their careful reviews.

Figures & Tables

Table 1.

Classification of sedimentary deposits on Mars.

Contents

GeoRef

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