The Open UniversitySkip to content

Pressurized groundwater outflow experiments and numerical modeling for outflow channels on Mars

Marra, Wouter A.; Hauber, Ernst; McLelland, Stuart J.; Murphy, Brendan J.; Parsons, Daniel R.; Conway, Susan J.; Roda, Manuel; Govers, Rob and Kleinhans, Maarten G. (2014). Pressurized groundwater outflow experiments and numerical modeling for outflow channels on Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 119(12) pp. 2668–2693.

Full text available as:
PDF (Version of Record) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (3MB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


The landscape of Mars shows incised channels that often appear abruptly in the landscape, suggesting a groundwater source. However, groundwater outflow processes are unable to explain the reconstructed peak discharges of the largest outflow channels based on their morphology. Therefore, there is a disconnect between groundwater outflow processes and the resulting morphology. Using a combined approach with experiments and numerical modeling, we examine outflow processes that result from pressurized groundwater. We use a large sandbox flume, where we apply a range of groundwater pressures at the base of a layer of sediment. Our experiments show that different pressures result in distinct outflow processes and resulting morphologies. Low groundwater pressure results in seepage, forming a shallow surface lake and a channel when the lake overflows. At intermediate groundwater pressures, fissures form and groundwater flows out more rapidly. At even higher pressures, the groundwater initially collects in a subsurface reservoir that grows due to flexural deformation of the surface. When this reservoir collapses, a large volume of water is released to the surface. We numerically model the ability of these processes to produce floods on Mars and compare the results to discharge estimates based on previous morphological studies. We show that groundwater seepage and fissure outflow are insufficient to explain the formation of large outflow channels from a single event. Instead, formation of a flexure-induced subsurface reservoir and subsequent collapse generates large floods that can explain the observed morphologies of the largest outflow channels on Mars and their source areas.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2014 American Geophysical Union
ISSN: 2169-9100
Project Funding Details:
Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
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; fluvial processes; groundwater; hydrology; experiments; outflow channels
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Physical Sciences
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Item ID: 44426
Depositing User: Susan Conway
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2015 09:01
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2019 17:42
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU