​Water On Mars: History Of Mars Ocean​​

By: | 07/22/2013 10:06 PM ET

Water may have been everywhere on Mars at one time, according to researchers from the California Institute of Technology. A Mars ocean may have covered as much as one-third of the planet billions of years ago.

Water On Mars

“One of the more provocative ideas concerning the history of water on mars is there was once an ocean covering the northern area of the planet,” study co-author Roman DiBiase, a postdoctoral geology scholar at Caltech, told The Huffington Post. DiBiase added that the team’s findings — published in the Journal of Geophysical Research — are consistent with this longstanding hypothesis of an ocean on Mars.

Using high-resolution images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers examined a 38-square-mile area in the Aeolis Dorsa region that may contain a former coastline. The range is characterized by hilly ridges called inverted channels, which scientists believe show traces of an ancient water system.

The team focused on the area’s topography and sedimentary rock layers in order to determine the slope of these ancient channels, which would indicate the direction of water flow. DiBiase said that interpreting the direction of flow is key.

Rather than converging, as previously believed, the water lines appear to spread out, suggesting that the channels were part of a delta that deposited water into a larger body of water, such as an ocean or regional sea, DiBiase said.

Though this is not the first time scientists have uncovered evidence of an ancient delta on Mars, previous findings were geographically confined. In 2010 the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spotted in the southern hemisphere a delta constrained within a 40-mile-wide crater, meaning the largest body of water that the channel could have filtered into would have been a lake.

However, as the Caltech team notes in its recent study, this is not the case with their finding.

“The location of our delta and other similar features within Aeolis Dorsa implies a large standing body of water spanning at least [100,000 square kilometers] and potentially far larger based on a complete lack of confining topography,” the researchers write.

The ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft detected sedimentary evidence last February that a large ocean once existed on Mars in the northern plains, where the Caltech study’s region is located.