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History and Current Processes of the Martian Polar Layered Deposits


Byrne, Shane (2003) History and Current Processes of the Martian Polar Layered Deposits. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/XRZN-4T75.


The Martian polar layered deposits constitute a detailed record of geologically recent environmental conditions. In this thesis I examine processes that have affected this history over timescales ranging from ≈10² to ≈10⁷ Martian years. To complete the work in this thesis I developed a geographic database of the Martian polar regions to enable comparisons of different datasets spread over different missions.

I report on the discovery of a large sand rich unit underlying the northern polar layered deposits. The presence of this unit suggests there once existed a radically different polar environment where there was no polar cap. A major new question now arises of where that water went during this time period and how the old polar cap (if there was one) was removed.

I describe analysis and modeling of evolving landforms on the southern residual CO₂ cap. This modeling suggests that these landforms are underlain by a water ice layer. THEMIS observations were used to confirm this hypothesis. This limits the size of the residual CO₂ cap reservoir to no more than 5% of the current atmosphere, which puts an important constraint on models of atmospheric evolution. Analysis of the size distribution coupled with this modeling indicates a uniform age for a large group of these features, implying some environmental change on the order of Martian centuries ago.

I examined geomorphologic evidence for flow processes at the margin of the south polar layered deposits. Indications of multiple episodes of previous flow are seen. However much evidence of brittle processes such as faulting, slumping and landsliding is also present. This leads to the conclusion that, during some periods, flow of the layered deposits is incapable of relieving the gravitationally generated stresses within the ice sheet. The evidence suggests that periods where flow was possible occurred intermittently and were separated by periods in which sublimation-based retreat of the ice dominated.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:cap; flow; Mars; Martian; polar; stratigraphy; sublimation
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Planetary Sciences
Minor Option:Astronomy
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Gurnis, Michael C.
Thesis Committee:
  • Brown, Michael E. (chair)
  • Ingersoll, Andrew P.
  • Albee, Arden Leroy
  • Murray, Bruce C.
  • Richardson, Mark I.
  • Gurnis, Michael C.
Defense Date:27 May 2003
Non-Caltech Author Email:shane (AT)
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05292003-140024
Persistent URL:
Byrne, Shane0000-0002-6735-4685
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2232
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:30 May 2003
Last Modified:11 Feb 2021 00:53

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