A recent study maintains that large glaciers should have formed on the surface of Mars and that liquid water gradually disappeared in its past, as the climate changed on the Red Planet which harbors multiple evidence of the presence of water on its surface dating back billions of years.
Led by Anna Grau Galofre, from the laboratory of planetology and geosciences (CNRS/University of Nantes/Le Mans/University of Angers), the new study, published by specialized journals, shows that the layers of ice on Mars probably moved and eroded at extremely slow rates, even when water had accumulated under the ice.
To reach this conclusion, the professor and her co-authors adapted to Martian conditions the existing physical framework that describes the drainage of water accumulated under the Earth’s ice sheets, coupled with the dynamics of ice movement.
They thus considered the dynamics of two equivalent layers of ice on Earth and on Mars, with the same thickness, the same temperature and the same availability of subglacial water, in order to determine whether the subglacial drainage would evolve towards configurations effective or ineffective on Earth and Mars, and what effect this would have on the rate of ice sliding and glacial erosion. Thus, on Mars, the glaciers will not produce subglacial morphologies although they exist and their extension was significant.
This work, which has enabled the interpretation of the glacio-geological record on Mars, will also help improve the understanding of ancient Martian glaciations, such as those covering the southern circumpolar region a billion years ago.