Geological mapping based on topographic analysis of Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data, together with photointerpretation of Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) images and thermodynamic and heat-flow considerations, frame a new hypothesis for the formation of Martian outflow channels through catastrophic dewatering of evaporite deposits. MOLA transects across Valles Marineris show that the valley is located at the crest of a 3-km-high topographic bulge on the flank of the much larger Tharsis Rise. Interpretation of MOC images showing layered deposits within Valles Marineris as unconformably underlying Hesperian-age lava flows means that these thick deposits, thought to contain hydrous sulfates, were heated by an increased geothermal gradient due to development of Tharis. Increased temperatures adequate to dehydrate hydrous evaporites would trigger significant volumetric expansion and catastrophically release tremendous amounts of overpressured water.

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