Journal article Open Access

The Global Resurfacing of Venus

Strom, Robert G.; Schaber, Gerald G.; Dawson, Douglas D.

The impact cratering record on Venus is unique among the terrestrial planets. Fully 84% of the craters are in pristine condition, and only 12% are fractured. Remarkably, only 2.5% of the craters and crater-related features are embayed by lava, although intense volcanism and tectonism have affected the entire planet. Furthermore, the spatial and hypsometric distribution of the craters is consistent with a completely random one, including stochastic variations. Monte Carlo simulations of equilibrium resurfacing models result in a minimum of 17 times more embayed craters than observed, or unobserved nonrandom crater distributions for resurfacing areas between 0.03% and 100% of the planet's surface. These models also are not consistent with the number and nonrandom distribution of volcanoes, and the nonrandom distribution of embayed and heavily fractured craters. The constraints imposed by the cratering record strongly indicate that Venus experienced a global resurfacing event about 300 m.y. ago followed by a dramatic reduction of volcanism and tectonism. This global resurfacing event ended abruptly (less than 10 m.y.). The present crater population has accumulated since then and remains largely intact. Thermal history models suggest that similar global resurfacing events probably occured episodically in the past. We show that neither the present level and style of geologic activity nor anything less than global resurfacing could have produced the observed cratering record. The effects of recent geologic activity are much less than those of the earlier global resurfacing event, when the record of all the early heavy bombardment and much of the later light bombardment was erased from the surface by massive volcanism and tectonic activity. Episodic regional resurfacing events that had global effects also occurred on Earth (e.g., the mid-Cretaceous superplume) and probably on Mars. On Mars they may have triggered the catastrophic releases of water that formed the outflow channels.

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