A branching, positive relief network in the middle member of the Medusae Fossae Formation, Equatorial Mars - evidence for sapping?

Harrison, S. K.; Balme, M. R.; Hagermann, A.; Murray, J. B.; Muller, J.-P. and Wilson, A. (2013). A branching, positive relief network in the middle member of the Medusae Fossae Formation, Equatorial Mars - evidence for sapping? Planetary And Space Science, 85 pp. 142–163.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pss.2013.06.004


The Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) is a geological formation comprising three geological units (members) spread across five principal lobes. It dominates a quarter of the longitudinal extent of the equatorial region of Mars. Positive relief features referred to as ‘sinuous ridges' (commonly interpreted as inverted paleoflow channel or valley fills) have been observed in the lowest member of the western MFF, but have not been identified within the central and eastern portions of the formation, in the middle and upper members. This paper presents the identification and analysis of a branching, positive relief system which occurs in the central lobe of the MFF in what appears to be an exposure of the middle member. A simple geomorphological map of the system is presented, from which we have adopted the working hypothesis that this is an inverted fill of a branching fluvial channel or valley system. A suite of morphological and topographic evidence supporting this hypothesis is presented, including analysis of the network using a~15 m per pixel digital terrain model derived from a Context Imager (CTX) stereo image pair. The evidence supporting this hypothesis includes: 1) The local slope and topography of the upper surface of the network are consistent with a contributory network, 2) The braided, fan-like form at the termination of the branching network is consistent in morphology with it being a depositional fan at the end of a fluvial system, 3) The terminal fan and surrounding deposits show layering and polygonization, 4) There is strong association between the lower order branches and amphitheater shaped scarps in the depression walls. We evaluate the possible origins of this fluvial system and suggest that seepage sapping is the most probable. Two possible models for the evolution of the network and related features are presented; both require melt of ice within the MFF to form liquid water. We conclude that at least some portions of the Medusae Fossae Formation, if not the entire formation, were once volatile-rich. Finally, we note that our observations do not rule out the case that this network formed before MFF emplacement, and has since been exhumed. However, this conclusion would suggest that much of the surrounding terrain, currently mapped as middle-member MFF, is not in fact MFF material at all.

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