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Topography of Valles Marineris: Implications for erosional and structural history

Lucchitta, B. K.; Isbell, N. K.; Howington-Kraus, A.

Compilation of a simplified geologic/geomorphic map onto digital terrain models of the Valles Marineris permitted an evaluation of elevations in the vicinity of the troughs and the calculation of depth of troughs below surrounding plateaus, thickness of deposits inside the troughs, volumes of void spaces above geologic/geomorphic units, and volumes of deposits. The central troughs north Ophir, north and central Candor, and north Melas Chasmata lie as much as 11 km below the adjacent plateaus. In Ophir and Candor Chasmata, interior layered deposits reach 8 km in elevation. If the deposits are lacustrine and if all troughs were interconnected, lake waters standing 8 km high would have spilled out of Coprates Chasma onto the surrounding plateaus having surface elevations of only 4–5 km. In this case, interior deposits above about 4 km in the central troughs would not be lacustrine. They could be volcanic. On the other hand, the troughs may not have been interconnected at the time of interior‐deposit emplacement; they may have formed isolated ancestral basins. The existence of such basins is supported by independent structural and stratigraphic evidence. The ancestral basins may have eventually merged, perhaps through renewed faulting, to form northern subsidiary troughs in Ophir and Candor Chasmata and the Coprates/north Melas/Ius graben system. The peripheral troughs are only 2–5 km deep, shallower than the central troughs. They may have formed from a combination of erosional collapse and structural activity. Chaotic terrain is seen in the peripheral troughs near a common contour level of about 4 km on the adjacent plateaus, which supports the idea of release of water under artesian pressure from confined aquifers. The layered deposits in the peripheral troughs may have formed in isolated depressions that harbored lakes and predated the formation of the deep outflow channels. If these layered deposits are of volcanic origin, they may have been emplaced beneath ice in the manner of table mountains. Areal and volumetric computations show that erosion widened the troughs by about one‐third and that deposits occupy one‐sixth of the interior space. Even though the volume eroded is larger than the volume deposited, topographic and geologic considerations imply that material eroded from trough walls was probably part of the interior layered deposits but not their sole source. Additional material may have come from subterranean piping, from reworking of local disintegration products on the floors, such as chaotic materials, or from eolian influx. But overall it is likely that the additional material is volcanic and that it forms mostly the upper, more diversely bedded layers of the interior deposits.

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