Experimental delta formation in crater lakes and implications for interpretation of Martian deltas



[1] The morphology of delta deposits in crater lakes on Mars is indicative of upstream (e.g., flow discharge and sediment properties) and downstream (e.g., basin characteristics) parameters, from which the hydrological conditions at the time of formation can be inferred. To investigate the influences of these parameters on delta morphology, we experimentally created deltas in crater-shaped basins by feeding a range of constant flow discharges over a feeder channel of various sand textures. We reproduced three categorically different types of deltas including most of the types that have been identified on Mars. Our most striking observation is that water level behavior (itself a unique function of flow discharge, basin size and hypsometry, and basin floor permeability) can explain most delta morphologies observed on Mars. Stepped, retrograding deltas formed during water level rise, prograding deltas formed during water level still stand, and during water level fall deltas were partially destroyed by erosion. On Mars numerous retrograding and prograding deltas were preserved, most of them without indications of channel incisions or other fluvial modification. We conclude that the main difference between a single-foreset prograding delta and a multiple-foreset retrograding delta is the behavior of the water level in the basin. These simple delta morphologies cannot be reconciled with long-duration hydrological activity, because that would imply crater lake fluctuations due to inherent complex water level histories along with complex sediment delivery histories. Our experiments and numerical verifications demonstrate that such deltas preferentially form during one aqueous event, which parsimoniously argues for short-duration hydrological activity.