Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars eskers?

Butcher, Frances E.G.; Conway, Susan J. and Arnold, Neil S. (2016). Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars eskers? Icarus, 275 pp. 65–84.



The Dorsa Argentea are an extensive assemblage of ridges in the southern high latitudes of Mars. They have previously been interpreted as eskers formed by deposition of sediment in subglacial meltwater conduits, implying a formerly more extensive south polar ice sheet. In this study, we undertake the first large-scale statistical analysis of aspects of the geometry and morphology of the Dorsa Argentea in comparison with terrestrial eskers in order to evaluate this hypothesis. The ridges are re-mapped using integrated topographic (MOLA) and image (CTX/HRSC) data, and their planar geometries compared to recent characterisations of terrestrial eskers. Quantitative tests for esker-like relationships between ridge height, crest morphology and topography are then completed for four major Dorsa Argentea ridges. The following key conclusions are reached: (1) Statistical distributions of lengths and sinuosities of the Dorsa Argentea are similar to those of terrestrial eskers in Canada. (2) Planar geometries across the Dorsa Argentea support formation of ridges in conduits extending towards the interior of an ice sheet that thinned towards its northern margin, perhaps terminating in a proglacial lake. (3) Variations in ridge crest morphology are consistent with observations of terrestrial eskers. (4) Statistical tests of previously observed relationships between ridge height and longitudinal bed slope, similar to those explained by the physics of meltwater flow through subglacial meltwater conduits for terrestrial eskers, confirm the strength of these relationships for three of four major Dorsa Argentea ridges. (5) The new quantitative characterisations of the Dorsa Argentea may provide useful constraints for parameters in modelling studies of a putative former ice sheet in the south polar regions of Mars, its hydrology, and mechanisms that drove its eventual retreat.

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