Large alluvial fans on Mars



[1] Several dozen distinct alluvial fans, 10 to ∼40 km long downslope, have been observed in highlands craters. Within a search region between 0° and 30°S, alluvial fan-containing craters were found only between 18° and 29°S, and they all occur at around ±1 km of the MOLA-defined Martian datum. Within the study area they are not randomly distributed but instead form three distinct clusters. Fans typically descend >1 km from where they disgorge from their alcoves. Longitudinal profiles show that their surfaces are very slightly concave with a mean slope of 2°. Many fans exhibit very long, narrow, low-relief ridges radially oriented downslope, often branching at their distal ends, suggestive of distributaries. Morphometric data for 31 fans were derived from MOLA data and compared with terrestrial fans with high-relief source areas, terrestrial low-gradient alluvial ramps in inactive tectonic settings, and older Martian alluvial ramps along crater floors. The Martian alluvial fans generally fall on the same trends as the terrestrial alluvial fans, whereas the gentler Martian crater floor ramps are similar in gradient to the low-relief terrestrial alluvial surfaces. For a given fan gradient, Martian alluvial fans generally have greater source basin relief than terrestrial fans in active tectonic settings. This suggests that the terrestrial source basins either yield coarser debris or have higher sediment concentrations than their Martian counterpoints. Martian fans (and terrestrial Basin and Range fans) have steeper gradients than the older Martian alluvial ramps (and terrestrial low-relief alluvial surfaces), which is consistent with the construction of Martian fans from dominantly gravel-sized sediment (rather than sand and silt). Martian fans are relatively large and of low gradient, similar to terrestrial fluvial fans rather than debris flow fans (although gravity-scaling uncertainties make the flow regime forming Martian fans uncertain). However, evidence of bedforms accentuated by differential erosion, such as scroll bars, supports the contention that these are fluvially formed fans. Martian fans, at least those in Holden crater, apparently formed around the time of the Noachian-Hesperian boundary. We infer that these fans formed during an episode of enhanced precipitation (probably snow) and runoff, which exhibited both sudden onset and termination.