The Open UniversitySkip to content

The comparison of topographic long profiles of gullies on Earth to gullies on Mars: a signal of water on Mars

Conway, Susan J.; Balme, Matthew R.; Kreslavsky, Mikhail A.; Murray, John B. and Towner, Martin C. (2015). The comparison of topographic long profiles of gullies on Earth to gullies on Mars: a signal of water on Mars. Icarus, 253 pp. 189–204.

DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


The topographic signature of a landform can give important clues as to its formation process. Here, we have used topographic long profiles to study the process of gully formation on Mars. We studied topographic long profiles of gullies on Earth to (1) confirm that previously published generalisations of how long profile shape varies with process also applies at the kilometre-scale of martian gullies, and (2) use as a direct comparison with the martian data. We have compared 24 fluvial and 22 debris flow long profiles of terrestrial gullies derived from laser altimeter and GPS measurements, to 78 long profiles of a range of gullies on Mars derived from a stereo-photogrammetry point-matching technique. We have confirmed that this manual point-matching technique is reliable for the martian data by comparison with full digital elevation models. We used nine different characteristics of the long profiles, including slope and curvature parameters, to perform a canonical discriminant analysis, which allowed us to identify the variables most important for differentiating between fluvial and debris flow gullies on Earth. In agreement with published literature for larger-scale features, we found that terrestrial debris flow gullies tend to be steeper and less concave than fluvial gullies. We have found that gully long profiles on Mars can resemble long profiles of terrestrial gullies formed by either fluvial or debris flow processes, with slightly more affinity to fluvial systems. Gullies on Mars can only be weakly separated from those on Earth: they can be separated from terrestrial fluvial gullies on curvature parameters and from terrestrial debris flow gullies by slope parameters. In addition, we have found that different alcove types identified from planview morphology are also distinctive in terms of their long profile morphology: gullies which incise back into the bedrock are more similar to terrestrial debris flows whereas polar-pit gullies are most similar to terrestrial fluvial gullies. Our findings suggest that the presence of a bedrock alcove promotes debris flow behaviour in gullies on Mars.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2015 Elsevier Inc.
ISSN: 0019-1035
Project Funding Details:
Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
NERC PhD Studentship awarded in 2007?NERC
Wet, moist, or dry? Using digital terrain models to determine the amount of water that has shaped the surfaces of Earth, Mars and the Moon. (SE-10-183-MB)RPG-397The Leverhulme Trust
Keywords: Mars; martian surface; geological processes
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Physical Sciences
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences
Item ID: 42448
Depositing User: Susan Conway
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2015 09:12
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2019 18:36
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU