Possibility of Recent Underground Volcanism on Mars

The Martian South Pole. A new study in Geophysical Research Letters argues there needs to be an underground source of heat for liquid water to exist underneath the polar ice cap. Credit: NASA.

The proposed study is located in the south polar ice cap of Mars. Now, a new study in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters argues there needs to be an underground source of heat for liquid water to exist underneath the polar ice cap.

The new research does not take sides as the liquid water exists. Instead, the authors suggest recent magmatic activity – the formation of a magma chamber thick ice cap. On the flip side, the study's authors argue that if there is not recent magmatic activity underneath the surface of Mars, then there is not possible liquid water underneath the ice cap.

Michael Sori, an associate staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and a co-lead, said "Different people may go different ways with this, and we're really interested in seeing how the community reacts to it." author of the new paper.

The potential presence of recent underground magmatic activity on Mars lends weight to the idea that Mars is an active planet. That fact could evolve over time.

The new study is intended to further the debate on the possibility of liquid water on Mars. The presence of liquid water on the Red Planet has been implicated in the future of human resources.

Said Ali Bramson, a postdoctoral research associate at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, and a co-lead author of "We believe that there is no life in the world." the new paper. "If there are still magmatic processes active today, maybe they were more common in the recent past, and could supply more widespread basal melting. This could provide a more favorable environment for liquid water and thus, perhaps, life. "

Examining the environment

Mars has two giant ice sheets at its pole, both a couple of kilometers thick. On Earth, it is common for liquid water to be present underneath thick ice sheets, with the planet's heat causing the ice to melt where it meets the Earth's crust.

In a paper published last year in Science, scientists said they detected a similar phenomenon on Mars. They claimed radar observations detected evidence of liquid water at the base of Mars's south polar ice cap. However, the science study did not address how the liquid water could have gotten there.

Mars is much cooler than Earth so it was unclear what type of environment would be needed at the bottom of the ice cap. While previous research has claimed the existence of water-water exist at the base of Mars's ice caps, no one has yet looked at the specific location.

"We thought there was a lot of room to figure out if [the liquid water] is real, what sort of environment would you need in the first place, what sort of temperatures would you need, what sort of geological process would you need? Because under normal conditions, it should be too cold, "Sori said.

Looking for the heat

The new study's authors first assumed the detection of liquid water and the ice cap was correct. They performed physical modeling of how much heat is coming out of the interior of the planet and if it could have been at the bottom of the ice. Salt lowers the melting point of ice significantly so it thought that salt could have led to melting at the base of the ice cap.

The model would not even raise the temperature. Instead, it needs to be heated by Mars's interior.

Publication: Michael M. Sori, et al., "Water on Mars, With a Grain of Salt: Local Heat Anomalies Are Required for Basal Melting of Ice at the South Pole Today," Geophysical Research Letters, 2019; doi: 10.1029 / 2018GL080985