US NewsStudy: Ancient Mars rivers were twice as wide as those on earth
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Mars is forbiddingly cold and dry now, with a thin atmosphere. But it once had massive rivers about two times wider than those on Earth today, and they flowed later in the planet’s history than previously thought, researchers from University of Chicago said Wednesday.
The new findings complicate the picture for other scientists the trying to figure out the history of the planet’s climate — and its drastic transition from wet to dry, the university researchers said.
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“We infer that climate-driven runoff that was both intense and globally distributed persisted late in the history of the drying out of Mars,” the study said.
Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at the university, said in a statement, “It’s already hard to explain rivers or lakes based on the information we have. This makes a difficult problem even more difficult.” Kite was the lead author of a study on Martian rivers published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
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Kite and fellow researchers studied more than 200 ancient Martian riverbeds, which provided clues about the water that ran through them and the climate that produced it. They looked at factors such the width and steepness of the riverebeds and the size of the gravel in them, the statement said.
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For those trying to understand Mars’ ancient climate, the results provide guidance, Kite said, noting that the size of the rivers implies that water flowed continuously not just at high noon. That suggests the average daytime temperatures were above the freezing point, pointing toward a strong greenhouse effect.
“The need for a strong greenhouse effect is clear. However, this challenge is not met by most existing models of Mars’ planetary climate evolution,” the study said.
If the dates for the river flows are accurate, it would suggest that Mars’ atmosphere disappeared faster than previously thought or that precipitation continued under low-atmosphere conditions, researchers said.
“These rivers’ existence is a challenge to models of planetary climate evolution,” the study said.
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