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Keywords:

  • buried crater;
  • deformation;
  • graben;
  • smooth plains emplacement;
  • strain analysis

[1] Since its insertion into orbit about Mercury in March 2011, the MESSENGER spacecraft has imaged most previously unseen regions of the planet in unprecedented detail, revealing extensive regions of contiguous smooth plains at high northern latitudes and surrounding the Caloris basin. These smooth plains, thought to be emplaced by flood volcanism, are populated with several hundred ghost craters and basins, nearly to completely buried impact features having rims for which the surface expressions are now primarily rings of deformational landforms. Associated with some ghost craters are interior groups of graben displaying mostly polygonal patterns. The origin of these graben is not yet fully understood, but comparison with numerical models suggests that the majority of such features are the result of stresses from local thermal contraction. In this paper, we highlight a previously unreported category of ghost craters, quantify extensional strains across graben-bearing ghost craters, and make use of graben geometries to gain insights into the subsurface geology of smooth plains areas. In particular, the style and mechanisms of graben development imply that flooding of impact craters and basins led to substantial pooling of lavas, to thicknesses of ∼1.5 km. In addition, surface strains derived from groups of graben are generally in agreement with theoretically and numerically derived strains for thermal contraction.