Special Department Lecture - Gaia Stucky de Quay (Texas)

Gaia Stuckey de Quay (Texas)
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Virtual via Zoom

Title: Landscape evolution and the early Mars hydroclimate: constraints from paleolake morphologies

Fluvio-lacustrine features on the martian surface attest to a climate that was radically different in the past. Studies of valley networks and paleolakes suggest that long-lived precipitation may have persisted up to 3.7 Ga. However, because climate models have difficulty sustaining a liquid hydrosphere at the surface for more than a few thousand years, it has been hypothesized that multiple cycles of runoff episodes may have characterized the ancient martian climate. Despite the decades-long accumulation of in situ and remote sensing data on surface water modification features, fundamental questions on the nature of Mars’ paleoclimate and its hydrological cycle remain: (1) How much rainfall and/or snowmelt occurred during a given interval of favorable climate?; and (2) How long did these runoff-producing episodes last? Here we combine measurements of 96 open- and closed-basin lakes with simple hydrological balances to constrain catchment-averaged precipitation over a given runoff episode. We include newly identified systems containing both open- and closed-basin lakes—i.e., coupled systems—which provide fully bounded precipitation estimates. We show that, on average, local precipitation was ≳4 m and ≲159 m, and the climate was semi-arid or more humid in certain regions. We integrate these results with existing climate model data to quantitatively derive runoff episode duration, which was likely between 100-10,000 yr and spatially variable. Importantly, these spatio-temporal hydroclimate constraints allow us to test paleoclimate model scenarios, working towards bridging the gap between geological observations and climate theory for early Mars.

About this Series:

Weekly talks given by leading thinkers in the areas of geology, geophysics, geobiology, geochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography, climatology, and planetary science. Lectures take place on Wednesdays from 4pm EST unless otherwise noted. For more information please contact: Maggie Cedarstrom, maggie84@mit.edu.