Landslides in Valles Marineris, Mars


  • Baerbel K. Lucchitta


Large landslides in the Martian equatorial troughs have been investigated with respect to morphology, geologic structure of the troughs, time of emplacement, similarity to terrestrial landslides, and origin and mechanism of transport. Viking Orbiter images provided a base for morphologic analyses, mapping, crater counts, and volumetric considerations. Results showed that the morphologic variations of the landslides can be attributed mainly to their degree of confinement on trough floors. Many prominent landslides appear to be of similar age and were emplaced after a major episode of faulting that created scarps of great relief. Most sliding apparently occurred after these scarps were dissected into spurs, gullies, and tributary canyons. Much of the slide activity coincided with a major late eruptive phase of the Tharsis volcanoes, as deduced from the crater density, over the total deposit area, of 570±130 craters larger than 1 km in diameter per 106 km2. The huge size of many landslides is due to their occurrence on fault scarps that may have attained several kilometers in height in the absence of vigorous fluvial erosion on Mars. The mechanical efficiency of the Martian landslides is high but in accord with predictions from large landslides on earth. The slides may have originated as gigantic mudflows with slump blocks at their heads; water that may have existed in aquifers in the wallrock below and behind a lid of ice may have been liberated through minor disturbances from Marsquakes. Liquefaction and collapse of extensive wall sections may then have ensued, and the debris rushed out onto the trough floors at speeds exceeding 100 km/h.