The stratigraphic history of Arabia Terra, Mars

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)


Use a broad variety of remote sensing data, including the latest very high-resolution images (0.25-5 m/pixel) from NASA and ESA spacecraft, to decipher and record the geology and geomorphology of an important region of Mars.
Develop skills in GIS, planetary morphostratigraphic mapping, planetary surface dating by 'crater counting' Digital Elevation Model production, sedimentology, stratigraphy, data synthesis and academic writing.
Join a large, dynamic research group with active Mars mission and instrument involvement, led by researchers working at the heart of UK planetary science.
Arabia Terra is one of the most ancient parts of Mars and is the destination for ESA's 2020 ExoMars Rover. Arabia Terra is a fascinating region, with a diverse geology including evidence for extensive alluvial, tectonic, volcanic, depositional and erosional processes. Recent work has shown that during Mars' ancient Noachian Period (> 3.7 Billion years ago) Arabia Terra hosted extensive river systems that are now revealed as regular and inverted channel or valleys systems (1,2). The fluvial landscape has been exhumed from beneath a diverse variety of superimposing, but heavily eroded, strata of generally unknown origin and is now exposed in cliffs and bedding planes.
For example, vast sedimentary deposits known as "etched terrains" crop out across Arabia Terra. They are remnants of once regionally-extensive units that have since been mostly removed. Proposed hypotheses for their origin include volcaniclastics from 'megavolcanoes', aeolian deposits or deeply eroded alluvial deposits. Younger, thinner and morphologically distinct examples of other resistant units also occur across the region, including at the ExoMars Rover landing site - these are often assumed to volcanic in origin, but little is known about them. Lastly, many hundreds or even thousands of high-relief, steep-sided erosional remnants are seen around the margins of Arabia Terra and appear to be all that is left of a once more extensive, tens of metres thick, sedimentary layers.
This project aims to examine the regional distribution of all of these strata and put them into a regional and temporal context and to constrain the possible depositional, erosional and preservation processes. This is important for understanding the geological history of Mars, and for the alteration and preservation potential of biomarkers. The successful candidate will investigate the morphology, sedimentology and stratigraphy of these units using very high resolution (1-20 m) Digital Terrain Models, images and multi/hyperspectral data.
Measurements of thickness, dip, erosion resistance and identification of geometries and repeated patterns in the layering will be used to test the various hypotheses for the origin of these units, or to build new working hypotheses. The project includes both detailed studies at near outcrop-scale using 25 cm/pixel HiRISE data and the new 4-5 m/pixel colour CaSSIS data, and synoptic survey and mapping studies using lower resolution remote sensing products.
The project will be hosted in the Planetary Environments Research Group


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ST/T506321/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023
2276767 Studentship ST/T506321/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2023 Joseph McNeil