Present-day seasonal gully activity in a south polar pit (Sisyphi Cavi) on Mars

Raack, Jan; Reiss, D.; Appéré, T.; Vincendon, M.; Ruesch, O. and Hiesinger, H. (2015). Present-day seasonal gully activity in a south polar pit (Sisyphi Cavi) on Mars. Icarus, 251 pp. 226–243.



The large amount of multi-temporal high-resolution images acquired in the last few years offers the opportunity to identify morphological changes associated with recent geologic activity on the surface of Mars. In this study we focus on a single gully in Sisyphi Cavi, located in the south polar region at 1.44°E and 68.54°S. The gully incises the gullied equator-facing slope of an isolated polar pit within an infilled impact crater. It is important to notice that the following investigations describe the activity and modifications of an existing gully and not the formation of the gully itself. High-resolution image data analyses show new deposits at the terminus of the gully channel and on the gully apron within spring (after solar longitudes of 236°) of martian years (MY) 29 and 31. Our morphological investigations show that the identified new deposits were formed by dark flows through the entire gully deposited on top of the apron between solar longitudes (LS) ∼218° and ∼226°. Thermal data show a temperature increase between LS ∼218° and ∼226°. Near-infrared spectral data show relatively constant band strengths of CO2ice and H2O ice in this time range. After the formation of the dark flows (after LS ∼226°), temperatures increase rapidly from ∼180 K to >∼270 K at LS ∼250°. At this time, spectral data indicate that all volatiles on the surface sublimated. However, an earlier beginning of sublimation when the dark flows were observed (between LS ∼218° and ∼226°) is likely, due to the fact that the instruments can only show the last phase of sublimation (decrease of volatile band strengths). Spectral modeling shows that from winter to mid-spring, the surface of the studied area is covered by translucent CO2 slab-ice contaminated by minor amounts of H2O ice and dust. Furthermore, our spectral modeling indicates that the dark material most likely flows on top of the CO2 slab-ice cover. Three different scenarios were proposed to explain the identified dark flows, including (1) flows supported by liquid H2O, (2) flows supported by CO2 gas, and (3) dry flows. On the basis of our study we find that scenario (1) is unlikely because of the very low temperatures. While scenario (2) is consistent with the observed beginning of CO2 ice sublimation in the study area, it is unlikely because of the limitation of the activity to only one gully compared to surrounding gullies that share the same morphologies, slope angles, and volatile contents. Also with scenario (3), dry flows, the activity of only one gully is difficult to explain. Thus, we propose a mixture of scenario (2 and 3), dry flows supported by the ongoing sublimation of CO2 ice within the gully, to be the most plausible scenario, when the observed active gully comprises different source material than the surrounding gullies, i.e., a higher content of probably sand-sized material from outcrops located in the alcove.

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