Huge Ice Deposit On Mars Can Hold As Much Water As Lake Superior

Posted: Nov 22 2016, 10:34pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 23 2016, 12:14am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Huge Ice Deposit on Mars can Hold as Much Water as Lake Superior
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
 

The newfound ice desposit is loacted in Mars' Utopia Planitia region and is mor extensive in area than the state of New Mexico

Scientists have just discovered a huge ice deposit buried beneath Martian surface. The newfound ice deposit is so massive that it can contain about as much water as the largest of Great Lakes, Lake Superior does.

A team of researchers was penetrating through parts of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region, in the mid-northern latitudes, with onboard radar system SHARAD when they detected a deposit bigger than New Mexico. The deposit is primarily made of water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles and varies in thickness from about 260 feet to about 560 feet at some places. 

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice.” Co-author and SHARAD co-investigator Jack Holt said.

The ice deposit is likely the result of snowfall on Mars tens of millions of years ago, in an era with a higher tilt where snow used to accumulate in the middle latitudes of Mars than its poles.

Today Mars cannot maintain water ice on its surface as it turns into water vapor due to planet’s thin atmosphere and vanishes into the space. The particular ice deposit, however, remained preserved because of a thick 3 to 33 feet soil covering. The soil likely protected Utopia deposit from the harsh effects of planet’s atmosphere and prevented it from vaporizing.

“This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet's axis was more tilted than it is today.” Lead author Cassie Stuurman from the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas explained.

Mars experiences cyclical changes in climate and, consequently, ice distribution. At present, Mars has an axial tilt of 25 degrees, so it accumulates more water ice at its poles. The newly surveyed ice deposit on Utopia Planitia represents less than one percent of all known water ice on Mars, but it is almost twice as much massive than thick ice sheets buried in the northern plains.

If researchers manage to detect more ice deposits in the region, they can help learn more about Martian climate and geology.

“The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren’t just an exploration resource, they’re also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars,” said co-author Joe Levy. “We don’t understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others. 

“Sampling and using this ice with a future help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”

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