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Keywords:

  • Mars;
  • river;
  • inverted topography;
  • delta;
  • ocean

Abstract

[1] A fundamental long-standing question regarding Mars history is whether the flat and low-lying northern plains ever hosted an ocean. The best opportunity to solve this problem is provided by stratigraphic observations of sedimentary deposits onlapping the crustal dichotomy. Here, we use high-resolution imagery and topography to analyze a branching network of inverted channel and channel lobe deposits in the Aeolis Dorsa region, just north of the dichotomy boundary. Observations of stacked, cross-cutting channel bodies and stratal geometries indicate that these landforms represent exhumed distributary channel deposits. Observations of depositional trunk feeder channel bodies, a lack of evidence for past topographic confinement, channel avulsions at similar elevations, and the presence of a strong break in dip slope between topset and foreset beds suggest that this distributary system was most likely a delta, rather than an alluvial fan or submarine fan. Sediment transport calculations using both measured and derived channel geometries indicate a minimum delta deposition time on the order of 400 years. The location of this delta within a thick and widespread clastic wedge abutting the crustal dichotomy boundary, unconfined by any observable craters, suggests a standing body of water potentially 105 km2 in extent or greater and is spatially consistent with hypotheses for a northern ocean.