Utopia Basin, Mars: Characterization of topography and morphology and assessment of the origin and evolution of basin internal structure


  • Bradley J. Thomson,

  • James W. Head III


Recently obtained Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) topography has permitted a new assessment of the morphology, structure, and history of Utopia Planitia. The new topographic data convincingly demonstrate that the Utopia region is an impact basin, as originally proposed by McGill [1989], whose major topographic expression is a circular, 1–3 km deep depression ∼3200 km in diameter. Utopia Basin is the largest easily recognizable impact structure in the northern hemisphere of Mars and is the only portion of the northern lowlands that exhibits a distinct large-scale impact signature; its presence there and its ancient age verify that a significant part of the northern lowlands dates back to the Noachian period. Using slope maps derived from gridded topography, we have mapped a series of linear slope anomalies within the basin and have analyzed their origin. These features can be classified into two groups: one oriented dominantly radial to the basin and the other oriented dominantly circumferential. The circumferential features are tens of kilometers wide and hundreds of kilometers long and appear to remain relatively constant with respect to elevation. We explore end-member hypotheses (1) that the features formed by the direct action of water/ice or (2) that they are tectonic wrinkle ridges. We interpret the majority of these features to be due to tectonic deformation (primarily wrinkle-ridge formation), modified by later sedimentation associated with the emplacement of the outflow channels and the formation of the Vastitas Borealis Formation. On the basis of the characteristics of these features and their association with polygonal terrain, thumbprint terrain, smoothness of units, and evidence of sedimentary deposits, we find that our results support earlier hypotheses proposing that a significant volume of water occupied Utopia Basin during the late Hesperian period of outflow channel formation. Utopia Basin differs significantly in depth and degradation state from the deeper and fresher-appearing Hellas Basin, although the two are both Noachian in age. A significant part of this difference seems reasonably interpreted to be the result of the extensive sedimentary and volcanic infilling history of the northern lowlands.