An international team of researchers, led by Don Hood from Louisiana State University, has looked at the Greater Thaumasia region on Mars and found conclusive evidence that a long mountain ridge in this portion of the Red Planet was formed by volcanic activity, connected to the evolution of Mars’s mantle.
Their research has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
“The chemical changes we see moving northwestward through the region is consistent with the mantle evolving on Mars. Our research supports that this whole area was built as a volcanic construct,” said Hood in a statement.
The team looked at the region in a number of different ways, studying the mineralogy, geology, and chemistry of Greater Thaumasia. By using data from the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the team discovered that the composition of rocks changes throughout the territory.
The mountain ridge is rich in silica and water and poor in potassium. Moving from this region, in the south-east, through the highland, the amount of water and silica decreases and the potassium increases.
At the north-west corner of the system, there are several shield volcanos, similar to the volcanos we find in Hawaii. They expel lava slowly and affect only their immediate area.
Volcanic eruptions are the most likely explanation for what is seen in the region, although flowing water was considered a possible cause for the chemical changes. “We looked for evidence of aqueous alteration through other geochemical means and didn’t find it,” said Hood.
There’s also another important chemical finding. There is sulfur present in the region, and it is very likely to have been deposited as a volcanic ash.
“Whether there was explosive volcanism on Mars and how much of it there was is an important question in terms of finding out what the past climate was like,” Hood added.
Explosive volcanos, like Mount Vesuvius or Mount Saint Helen, erupt in catastrophic ways, sending a large amount of material into the atmosphere. These particles can significantly affect a planet’s climate so confirming this finding could tell us a lot more about the history of Mars.