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Volcanic Features of Mars

Question:

Describe the studies carried out by researchers regarding volcanic eruptions on the surface of Mars.

Mars is very small as compared to the Earth, but it has a number of volcanoes that are much larger and plays an essential role in contributing to its geologic evolution (Peel & Fassett, 2013). Volcanic features like lava plains, lava flows, among others, cover most of the region of Mars. Volcanism is the phenomenon, where magma from the interior regions of Mars rise to the surface, thereby creating distinct landforms, terrains and rock types. The erupted materials consist of lava, ash and gases (Ehlmann & Edwards, 2014). The massive volcanoes of Mars are located in its Elysium and Tharsis regions. Some of the largest volcanoes are Pavonis Mons, Ascraeus Mons, Arsia Mons and Olympus Mons. Among them, Olympus Mons is the largest volcano not only in Mars but also in the solar system (Ruiz, 2014).

Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, which is 24kms high and 550kms in diameter, while the largest volcano in Earth named Mauna Loa is 9kms in height and 120kms in diameter (Isherwood et al., 2013). This report is based on a space news article “Monster Volcanoes on Mars: How Space Rocks are Helping Us Solve Their Mysteries” published in the Space.com websites Expert Voices: Op-Ed and Insights section (Www.space.com, 2017). This article is based on the research work of scientists of Glasgow University, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Natural History Museum in London and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The results of the research work were also published in the Nature Communications journal (Cohen et al., 2017).

The report will comprise a synopsis of the news article, followed by descriptions of previous informations about Martian volcanoes and how these volcanoes will help to solve the mysteries of Mars in the future.

Mars consists of some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system. Studying and observation of such Martian volcanoes enables researchers to gather information about the geological history of Mars. Such research revealed that the Martian volcanoes originated about 3.5 billion years ago and the recent volcanic eruptions are 10 million years old indicating that the volcanoes are all extinct. Meteorites resulting from asteroid strikes in Mars when examined by researchers revealed their gas composition and also helped to determine the age of the meteorites, which were found to be 1.3 to 1.4 billion years. Martian volcanoes take a long time to grow as compared to that on Earth indicating the volcanically active nature of Mars. Research works helped to determine that the large size of the volcanoes is due to lack of active plate tectonics and also helped to differentiate between the volcanic activities in Mars and in Earth (Www.space.com, 2017).

Volcanic activities in Mars is highly extensive and unevenly distributed. The volcanic landforms of Mars consist of Central volcanoes, small domes, paterae, thori, volcanic planes among others. The distinctive eruption styles of the Martian volcanoes are responsible for the creation of such varied volcanic landforms. Moreover, such varied volcanic landforms owe its origins to changes in volcanic styles with respect to time and also to the interactions between the atmosphere and the Martian cryosphere (Zimbelman et al., 2015). Two of the most volcanically active regions of Mars are the Elysim and Tharsis regions. The morphologies of these volcanic regions in Mars closely resemble the basaltic landforms common to Earth. Some of the largest Martian volcanoes are located in the Tharsis regions, which include the Olympus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsia Mons and Ascraeus Mons (Beuthe et al., 2012). The differences between the volcanoes in Mars and those on Earth are due to higher rates of eruption, no plate tectonics and poor gravity in Mars. The volcanic landforms in Mars are classified into 4 categories, which include the shield volcanoes, highland paterae, composite cones or domes and volcano tectonic appearances (Platz et al., 2015).

Olympus Mons: The Largest Shield Volcano in the Solar System

Olympus Mons is the largest Martian volcano. It is the largest shield volcano in Mars. Found in the Tharsis region of Mars, it is the largest volcano in the solar system. The molten lava flow down the sides of Olympus Mons, thereby giving rise to a squat appearance. The summit has a depression, created as a result of stacking of six collapsed craters called calderas. Olympus Mons is a young volcano because of the fact that although the entire volcano is billions of years old, some regions date back to only a few million years. Although reports about Olympus Mons being an extinct volcano, but still researchers indicate that it can still be active and is capable of erupting substantial volumes of magma. Olympus Mons also consists of rock glaciers. Deposits of ice and snow are found at the top of Olympus Mons. These icy deposits remain insulated by the dust present on the surface of the volcano. These glaciers consist of furrows, ridges and lobes and composed of boulders and rocks (Chadwick et al., 2015).

The factors that contribute to massive volcanoes on the surface of Mars as compared to those on Earth is due to the fact that the surface gravity of Mars is lower than that of Earth. Moreover, the rate of lava or magma eruption is higher on the surface of Mars than on Earth. This results in high piling up of the lava, rather than being uniformly distributed on the surface. Apart from these, the absence of plate tectonics also plays an important role in the creation of large volcanoes on the surface of Mars. Lava hotspots are present under the crust of both Earth and Mars. However, due to the movement of plate tectonics in the case of Earth, the hotspots do not remain in the same place. This prevents the buildup of lava, further contributing to the short heights of the volcanoes as compared to that of Mars. However, in Mars there is negligible levels of plate tectonics and as a result, the lava hotspots remain in one place, thereby resulting in buildup of lava giving rise to larger volcanoes. Moreover, the extensive lifetime of the volcanoes have also a role to play in creating large volcanoes on the surface of Mars (Science.nasa.gov, 2017).

Mars has some of the mysteries that have been puzzling researchers for a long time. Some of these mysteries are that Mars has 2 faces. The northern region has a smooth surface, while the southern region is rough and full of craters. Other mysteries involve the presence of methane on Mars, which points to the presence of life on Mars. Additionally, researchers are highly interested to know about the presence of flowing water on the surface of Mars, the presence of oceans, presence of life, source of life on Earth came from Martian meteorites and whether humans can live on Mars. Recent research by investigators revealed that significant amounts of volcanic eruptions on Mars could have caused flow of water on the surface of Mars. According to the researchers, the volcanic eruptions on the surface of Mars resulted in heating up of the planet, which in turn helped them to determine the mechanism by which water flowed on the surface of the planet (Mars.jpl.nasa.gov, 2017).

Factors Contributing to the Formation of Massive Volcanoes in Mars

The surface of Mars had long puzzled researchers since there were evidences of freshly eroded gullies on the surface of Mars, which could have been some few million years old. According to the researchers, these were caused by water trickling down the surfaces, thereby resulting in the generation of eroded plains. However, the cold and icy climate of Mars was contradictory to the phenomenon. However, studies of volcanic activities on the surface of Mars have enabled the researchers to solve this mystery. The frequent and significant eruptions of molten lava release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of Mars that results in trapping the heat. Such trapping of heat in the Martian atmosphere kept the planet warm for a significant timeframe. Studies conducted revealed that the geological architectures on the surface of Mars could have been due to the presence of flowing water. These geological architectures date back to 3.7 billion years. Thus, such studies enabled the researchers to determine the age of the geological architectures on the surface of Mars and correlate it with the presence of active volcanic activities at that time that could have contributed to water flowing on the surface of the planet, giving rise to its distinct landscape (Martínez & Renno, 2013). This type of heating effect of volcanoes on the surface of Mars is different from that on Earth because on Earth such heavy volcanic activity gives rise to cooling effects. The ash and the sulphuric acid emanating from the eruptions reflect the rays of the Sun, thereby preventing the heat to accumulate on the surface giving rise to an overall cooling effect. Moreover, the sulfur dioxide gas creates a greenhouse effect on the surface of Mars, which in turn creates a heating effect enabling the water to flow as a stream eroding the surrounding neighboring landscapes (Anchukaitis et al., 2012).


However, since, studies of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions on the surface of Mars has enabled researchers to determine the presence of water on the surface of Mars, however, such facts are intriguing because the presence of water can normally be associated with the presence of life. Presence of life on Mars is an important and very intriguing question, which researchers are dying to solve. Presence of extremophilic microorganisms have been found in Antarctica, moreover, such freezing temperatures have also been found on the surface of Mars, thereby exciting the researchers about the fact that there can be presence of potential life on the surface of Mars. The Martian atmosphere consists of high levels of peroxide and extremophilic microorganisms are known to break down peroxide to water and oxygen by the use of the catalase enzymes. Thus, there could be possible that life exists on the surface of Mars. Thus, it could be possible that the life on Earth could have originated from Mars. On the other hand, the life on Mars could have been originated from Earth. This transfer of living organisms could have been possible by the meteorites that constantly migrate from one planet to the other (Mancinelli, 2015).

Mysteries Surrounding the Red Planet

Apart from evidences of life obtained from the studies of volcanic eruptions on the surface of Mars, another intriguing part of the research described in the news article is that the lifetime of the Martian volcanoes was also determined. The researchers used a technique called the argon-argon geochronology that helped to measure argon amounts on the meteorites that landed on Earth. This technique helped to determine the age of the meteorites, thereby indicating that the Martian volcanoes were active for more than 90 million years, thereby giving rise to such meteorites that landed on the surface of the Earth (Cohen et al., 2017). The long lifespan of the Martian volcanoes thereby could also be the reason of the large size of the volcanoes on Mars as compared to those on Earth.

The answers obtained from the recent research work conducted by investigators regarding the volcanic activities on the surface of Mars, is highly intriguing and was not known before. This study not only impacts and enhances the knowledge base of researchers about the volcanic activities on the surface of Mars, but also helps to solve some of the underlying questions regarding the origin of life on Earth. Moreover, the study also helps to determine why the volcanoes in Mars are so large, the largest in the Solar system is Olympus Mons. However, there are additional questions that arises is that what is the source and the reason for the long lifespan of the Martian volcanoes. Moreover, there are also uncertainties regarding the claims of researchers regarding the presence of life on the surface of Mars. It will be intriguing to determine the existence of life on the surface of Mars in the coming future, which in turn would further encourage questions like whether the Martian atmosphere can support human life.

Conclusion

This report describes the studies of researchers regarding the presence of monster volcanoes on the surface of Mars. The study was reported in a recent news article published in the website of Space.com. The study revealed the presence of large volcanoes on Mars’s surface and also determined the reasons of the presence of such large volcanoes. The study also helped to determine the age of the volcanoes, which were found to be significantly high than those present on Earth. Such studies have future consequences because of the fact it would help to solve the distinct geological architectures of Mars and also help to determine whether life actually exist on the surface of Mars

Reference List

Anchukaitis, K. J., Breitenmoser, P., Briffa, K. R., Buchwal, A., Büntgen, U., Cook, E. R., ... & Grudd, H. (2012). Tree rings and volcanic cooling. Nature Geoscience, 5(12), 836-837.

Beuthe, M., Le Maistre, S., Rosenblatt, P., Pätzold, M., & Dehant, V. (2012). Density and lithospheric thickness of the Tharsis Province from MEX MaRS and MRO gravity data. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 117(E4).

Chadwick, J., McGovern, P., Simpson, M., & Reeves, A. (2015). Late Amazonian subsidence and magmatism of Olympus Mons, Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 120(9), 1585-1595.

Cohen, B. E., Mark, D. F., Cassata, W. S., Lee, M. R., Tomkinson, T., & Smith, C. L. (2017). Taking the pulse of Mars via dating of a plume-fed volcano. Nature communications, 8(1), 640.

Ehlmann, B. L., & Edwards, C. S. (2014). Mineralogy of the Martian surface. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 42, 291-315.

Isherwood, R. J., Jozwiak, L. M., Jansen, J. C., & Andrews-Hanna, J. C. (2013). The volcanic history of Olympus Mons from paleo-topography and flexural modeling. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 363, 88-96.

Mancinelli, R. L. (2015). The affect of the space environment on the survival of Halorubrum chaoviator and Synechococcus (Nägeli): data from the space experiment OSMO on EXPOSE-R. International Journal of Astrobiology, 14(1), 123-128.

Mars.jpl.nasa.gov. (2017). Mars, Water & Life. Mars.jpl.nasa.gov. Retrieved 20 December 2017, from https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98/why.html

Martínez, G. M., & Renno, N. O. (2013). Water and brines on Mars: current evidence and implications for MSL. Space Science Reviews, 175(1-4), 29-51.

Peel, S. E., & Fassett, C. I. (2013). Valleys in pit craters on Mars: Characteristics, distribution, and formation mechanisms. Icarus, 225(1), 272-282.

Platz, T., Byrne, P. K., Massironi, M., & Hiesinger, H. (2015). Volcanism and tectonism across the inner solar system: An overview. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 401(1), 1-56.

Ruiz, J. (2014). The early heat loss evolution of Mars and their implications for internal and environmental history. Scientific reports, 4.

Science.nasa.gov. (2017). Plate Tectonics on Mars? | Science Mission Directorate. Science.nasa.gov. Retrieved 20 December 2017, from https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/1999/ast29apr99_1

Www.space.com, S. (2017). Monster Volcanoes on Mars: How Space Rocks are Helping Us Solve Their Mysteries. Space.com. Retrieved 20 December 2017, from https://www.space.com/39035-monster-volcanoes-on-mars-mysteries.html

Zimbelman, J. R., Garry, W. B., Bleacher, J. E., & Crown, D. A. (2015). Volcanism on Mars. In The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (Second Edition) (pp. 717-728).

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