The geomorphology of glacial landscapes on Mars

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Physical Sciences

Abstract

Specific objectives:
To document and map the landforms and landscapes in Promethei Terra and Deuteronilus Mensae and to assess the case for their formation by wet-based or cold-based glacial processes.
To assess whether the Hubbard et al. (2011) model for the formation and movement of glacier-like forms applies to other regions on Mars.
This project will examine glacial landscapes on Mars. It will focus on two study regions that reflect some of the most important discoveries of the last 10 years, namely: 1) observations of geologically recent glacial landforms in the mid- to low-latitudes that indicate significant deposition and mobility of ice or ice-rich material (Souness et al. 2012, Milliken et al. 2003); 2) Gamma ray and Neutron Spectrometer data showing high concentration of extant near-surface in certain mid- to low-latitude areas of Mars (Feldman et al. 2011). Taken together, these results suggest a dynamic recent climate, with the role of water in both the solid and liquid state being key.

The first area of study will be the mid-latitude region of Promethei Terra, which shows spectral evidence of anomalously high quantities of near-surface water-ice, and contains viscous flow features that closely resemble terrestrial rock-glaciers, as well as possible fluvioglacial landforms. The second area of study will be the mid to high latitude area of Deuteronilus Mensae, which, in contrast to Promethei Terra, is not associated with spectral evidence of water ice, but has abundant evidence of glacier like forms (Squyres 1979, Morgan et al. 2009). A key element of this project will be to investigate and map the meter/decametre scale geomorphology of these areas and to determine whether the spectral signature of high water-ice content has a morphological counterpart. A second aspect of this project could incorporate glacial flow modelling to constrain the duration of activity and amount of debris on these features, or remotely sensed Earth analogue work, depending on the strengths and preferences of the candidate.
Specific training will include the use of GIS in planetary data contexts, construction of digital terrain models from orbital and aerial images, planetary mapping techniques and general concepts in martian geomorphology/geology.

Publications

10 25 50

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Balme M (2019) The 2016 UK Space Agency Mars Utah Rover Field Investigation (MURFI) in Planetary and Space Science

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Balme Matthew (2017) Surface-Based 3d measurements of aeolian bedforms on Mars in EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts

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Butcher F (2016) Are the Dorsa Argentea on Mars eskers? in Icarus

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Butcher F (2017) Recent Basal Melting of a Mid-Latitude Glacier on Mars in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

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Butcher Frances (2017) New evidence for geothermal controls upon recent basal melting of mid-latitude glaciers on Mars in EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts

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Butcher Frances E. G. (2019) Wet-based glaciation on Mars

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De Haas T (2017) Time will tell: temporal evolution of Martian gullies and palaeoclimatic implications in Geological Society, London, Special Publications

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De Haas Tjalling (2017) Time will tell: temporal evolution of Martian gullies and paleoclimatic implications in EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts

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Morino C (2019) Molards as an indicator of permafrost degradation and landslide processes in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ST/N50421X/1 30/09/2015 30/03/2021
1653320 Studentship ST/N50421X/1 30/09/2015 31/12/2018 Frances Butcher
 
Description My PhD research has focussed on the meltwater histories of geologically young (hundreds to tens of millions of years old), debris-covered, water-ice glaciers that exist in Mars' mid-latitudes in the present day. Mars' climate is extremely cold and dry, and it was commonly assumed that existing glaciers on Mars have always been cold-based, i.e., that they have never produced meltwater at their beds. I discovered one of two known eskers associated with mid-latitude glaciers on Mars, in the NW Tempe Terra region of Mars' northern mid-latitudes. Eskers are ridges of sediment deposited by meltwater flowing through tunnels within or beneath glacial ice. These eskers provide the first indicative evidence that existing mid-latitude glaciers produced meltwater at their beds in at least two locations on Mars (albeit in extremely rare, transient events) ~110-150 million years ago, despite extremely cold and hyperarid recent climate conditions. I found that above average geothermal heat flux (heat from within the planet), possibly with an additional component of heating by deformation of flowing ice, was required to induce rare, localised ocurrences of basal melting under cold recent climate conditions. Thus, the glacier-linked eskers not only challenge the model that existing glaciers on Mars have always been ubiquitously cold-based, but also significantly extend (by hundreds of millions of years) the periods for which geothermal activity (e.g., due to magmatism and/or hydrothermal circulation) has been inferred for their host regions. In addition, I found that the 3D geometry of the newly-identified glacier-linked esker probably records complex variations in the supply of meltwater and sediment to the esker-forming glacial drainage system. Such insights will be essential for informing future computer simulations to reconstruct the environmental and glaciological requirements for production of esker-forming meltwater. I also began the search for glacier-linked eskers elsewhere on Mars, beyond the two known examples. I identified Chukhung crater in central Tempe Terra as a site of interest for future studies. I found that esker-like glacier-linked ridges in this location have ambiguous origins; they could either be eskers, or could have been formed by subaerial (i.e., non-glacial) flows of liquid water from precipitation or snowmelt. Both subglacial and subaerial sources for the ridge-forming liquid water required environmental conditions (at least locally) that were atypical of the extremely cold and dry climate conditions that are thought to have prevailed on Mars for the last 3 billion years.
Exploitation Route If eskers are indeed indicative of above-average geothermal heat flux, they could serve as important proxies for spatiotemporal variations in geothermal heat flux across Mars' surface. The InSight lander, which landed on Mars in November 2018, is anticipated to take the first direct measurement of Mars' geothermal heat flux, but only for a single location and at a single point in geological time (the present day). Thus, geomorphic indicators of variations in geothermal heat flux (both in space and in time) that are observable from orbit (including eskers) will continue to provide essential contextualisation for the point measurement of geothermal heat flux to be provided by the InSight lander. I have also produced a database comprising systematic high-resolution (metre-scale) 3D measurements of the glacier-linked eskers, and identified possible relationships that could be used to test the hypothesis that landforms elsewhere on Mars, such as the glacier-linked ridges of ambiguous origin in Chukhung crater, are eskers. Finally, my reconstruction of the spatiotemporal variations in the dynamics of meltwater and sediment supply during the esker-forming meltwater drainage event(s) in NW Tempe Terra will provide essential constraints for future computer simulations aiming to reconstruct the environmental and glaciological requirements for esker-forming basal melting of glaciers on Mars.
Sectors Education,Environment

 
Description Research featured in article in The Guardian Weekend Supplement on Women in STEM.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal

 
Description British Society for Geomorphology, Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant, Autumn 2015 Round
Amount £850 (GBP)
Organisation British Society for Geomorphology 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Description British Society for Geomorphology, Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant, Autumn 2017 Round
Amount £300 (GBP)
Organisation British Society for Geomorphology 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2018
 
Description European Student Travel Grant: 6th International Mars Polar Conference.
Amount € 666 (EUR)
Organisation International Association of Cryospheric Sciences 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 08/2016 
End 09/2016
 
Description GeoPlaNet Grant
Amount € 1,200 (EUR)
Organisation University of Nantes 
Sector Academic/University
Country France
Start 04/2019 
End 05/2019
 
Description Lunar and Planetary Institute Career Development Award
Amount $1,500 (USD)
Organisation Lunar and Planetary Institute 
Sector Academic/University
Country United States
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2019
 
Description Ogden Trust Trustees Award
Amount £900 (GBP)
Organisation Ogden Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Description Pierazzo International Student Travel Award
Amount $2,000 (USD)
Organisation Planetary Science Institute - Arizona 
Sector Academic/University
Country United States
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2017
 
Description Royal Astronomical Society Grant (Conference Travel)
Amount £900 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Astronomical Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2018
 
Title Geomorphic map of Chukhung crater, central Tempe Terra, Mars (Shapefiles) 
Description RAW MAP SHAPEFILES: GEOMORPHIC MAP OF CHUKHUNG CRATER, TEMPE TERRA, MARS.Files are raw shapefiles for the geomorphic map of Chukhung crater published in:Butcher, F. E. G., Balme, M. R., Conway, S. J., Gallagher, C., Arnold, N. S., Storrar, R. D., Lewis, S. R., Hagerman, A., and Davis, J. M., 2021, Sinuous ridges in Chukhung crater, Tempe Terra, Mars: Implications for fluvial, glacial, and glaciofluvial activity, Icarus, vol. 357, 114131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2020.114131------------------------Files were generated using ESRI ArcGIS 10.7Contact the lead author for assistance using these files.------------------------FILES AND DESCRIPTIONS:ChukhungCrater_Units_Pgn.shp- Contains mapped polygons. - The UnitAbbrev field in the attribute table (.dbf file) contains unit abbreviations as defined in the published paper.ChukhungCrater_Units_Pgn.lyr- Contains the layer symbolisation information for ChukhungCrater_Units_Pgn.shp. - Polygons are symbolised using the UnitAbbrev field.ChukhungCrater_Structure.shp- Contains structure digitised as polylines. - The Structure field in the attribute table (.dbf file) contains Structure type (Crater wall valley or Small impact crater rim).ChukhungCrater_Structure.lyr- Contains the layer symbolisation information for ChukhungCrater_Structure.shp. - Polygons are symbolised using the Structure field. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Only recently published - no notable impacts yet. 
URL https://figshare.shef.ac.uk/articles/dataset/Geomorphic_map_of_Chukhung_crater_central_Tempe_Terra_M...
 
Description Fieldwork Diaries Podcast Episode 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Podcast episode on the general science of my field, and some specifics about this project. Gained lots of attention on social media (e.g. twitter).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.fieldworkdiaries.com/episode-5/
 
Description First Mars Glacier Discussion Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Organised a meeting attended by 30 delegates, comprising research talks and lab tours. Discussion of Mars glacier/gully science and Earth analogues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Interviewed for The Guardian Weekend Supplement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed for a two page article about my research and women in STEM. Originally published on 6/10/18, re-run on 24/11/18.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited Keynote: Ogden Trust SE Schools Physicist of the Year Award Ceremony 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Gave invited keynote lecture on my research at award ceremony for Ogden Trust SE Schools Physicist of the Year 2017. Received lots of questions from students and parents afterwards on pathways to STEM careers and university applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited Lecture, Denbigh School STEM Lecture Series, Milton Keynes, UK. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk entitled 'Space glaciers! Water ice on Mars and Beyond' for students (year 8 upwards), teachers and general public. Talk was attended by ~75 people, and feedback forms indicated increased awareness of career pathways to planetary science, increased interest in STEM careers by students, increased awareness of Open University research, and increased awareness of the importance of geology and geography in planetary science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited Lecture: Macclesfield Astronomical Society, Macclesfield, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture on my research entitled: 'Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Mysteries of Glaciers on Mars'. Society reported extremely positive feedback and uptake of new members attending a society event for the first time for my lecture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited Lecture: Open University Geological Society East Midlands Branch, Ice Worlds Day at the British Geological Survey, Keyworth, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Lecture to an audience primarily comprising Open University undergraduate students. Two audience members travelled from outside the UK, specifically to see my talk. Lots of questions and discussion was prompted, as well as invites to speak at future student events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited Seminar - Aberystwyth University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited academic seminar disseminating results of the award. Attended by staff and research students at the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar - International Glaciological Society Global Seminar Series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Virtual Seminar (due to Covid-19 lockdown) disseminating the results of the award. Seminar available to general public on YouTube.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP88NvgTdfs
 
Description Invited Seminar - Sheffield Hallam University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited academic seminar.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar - University College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited academic seminar disseminating the results of the award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited Seminar - University of Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited Academic Seminar, leading to new collaboration with researchers at Leeds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar, Hutton Club, University of Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited academic seminar
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Speaker, Astrobiology Society of Britain & Science and Technology Facilities Council, Astrobiology Summer School, UK Centre for Astrobiology, 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk on Mars glacier science and the ExoMars rover mission. Attended by PhD students from multiple institutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited virtual seminar - SedsOnline 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited online seminar (due to Covid-19 lockdown).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://sedsonline.com/scientific-webinars/
 
Description Live Radio interview, BBC Radio Foyle 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Provided expert comment on the discovery of a possible subglacial lake on Mars (Orosei et al., 2018, Science)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Live Radio interview, BBC Three Counties 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Provided expert comment on the discovery of a possible subglacial lake on Mars (Orosei et al., 2018, Science)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Live Radio interview, Vectis Radio (Isle of Wight) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Provided expert comment on the discovery of a possible subglacial lake on Mars (Orosei et al., 2018, Science)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Open University Astronomical Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on the status of my research to OU Astronomical Society. Sparked lots of discussion and questions from audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Open University Space Science Showcase, Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Hands-on activities, demonstrations and pop-up talks on my research. Sparked lots of questions, particularly from younger attendees. Received feedback from young female attendees who learned from the event that women can be scientists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.dynamicearth.co.uk/latest/blog/posts/2016/august/space-science-showcase-spectacular
 
Description Press release on Journal Publicatoin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact University Website Article received widespread attention on social media, resulting in an Altmetric attention score within the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric (correct on 11/01/2018).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ounews.co/science-mct/space/scientists-discover-evidence-recent-water-flows-mars/
 
Description WeMartians Podcast Ep. 23: Esker Questions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The podcast received a lot of attention on social media. I was contacted by school teachers wishing to use it as a teaching resource.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017