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Mars is full of valleys, a kind of “scars” geological indicate that on its surface there was once water. The most accepted theory in the last decades has been that the rivers flowed in liquid , in the same way that they do on Earth. However, new research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) that was just published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” comes to refute this idea and proposes an alternative: many of the valleys of our neighbor, the red planet, were carved by glaciers , so that the hypothesis of a ” Mars old warm and humid “, with rivers, rains and oceans would not have taken place. Or, at least, not all over the planet in the same way.

to reach this conclusion, the principal author, Anna Grau Galofre , a former phd student in the department of earth sciences, oceanic and atmospheric of the UBC are used new tools, such as the artificial intelligence . Compared the valleys martian channels subglaciares similar in the Earth, specifically in the archipelago canadian arctic, finding surprising similarities.

“During the last 40 years, since they discovered the valleys of Mars, it was assumed that the rivers flowed once there, eroding and causing all these valleys,” says Grau Galofre-. But there are hundreds of valleys on the red planet and are very different from each other . If you look at the Earth the same way that we receive images from the satellites on Mars, you would see many valleys: some have been formed by the action of rivers, others by glaciers, others by other processes; each type has a distinctive shape. Mars is similar, because the valleys are very different among themselves, suggesting that many processes were in the game for carving,” he concludes.

Devon Island and its resemblance to Mars

The team noted that many valleys martians were very similar to the channels are subglacial in Devon island in the canadian Arctic. “The Devon Island is one of the best places similar to Mars that we have here on Earth: it is a cold desert, dry and polar, and the glaciation is mainly based in the cold,” explains Gordon Osinski , professor in the department of the University of Western of earth sciences and Institute for Exploration of the Earth and Space, and co-author of the research.

The researchers from UBC have concluded that the martian landscape early probably looked like this image of the ice cap of Devon – Anna Grau Galofre

so the researchers set out to compare: analyzed more than 10.000 valleys martians using a new logarithm that allowed them to know which of them would have been formed by erosion processes underlying. “The results constitute the first evidence of extensive erosion subglacial driven by the drainage channeled the meltwater beneath an ancient layer of ice on Mars,” says for its part, Mark Jellinek , another of those responsible for the study and a professor in the department of earth sciences, oceanic and atmospheric UBC. “The findings demonstrate that only a fraction of the networks of valleys coincide with the typical patterns of erosion of the surface waters, which is in stark contrast with the conventional view. Use the geomorphology of the surface of Mars to reconstruct rigorously the nature and evolution of the planet in a way that is statistically significant is downright revolutionary.”

Origins and life

The theory of Grau Galofre also helps to explain how they would have formed the valleys makes 3.800 million years in a world that is further from the sun than the Earth and, in addition, during a time in which the solar activity was less intense . “The climate modelling predicts that the ancient climate of Mars was much colder during the formation of the network of valleys -says Grau Galofre, currently postdoctoral fellow of exploration SESE at Arizona State University. We integrate everything into one theory to hypothesize that it really had not considered: that the network of channels and valleys can be formed under the layers of ice , as part of the drainage system that is naturally formed below a layer of ice when there is water accumulated in the base”. That is to say, that many of these valleys were formed by the action of erosion of the ice of the glaciers and not rivers flowing in liquid form.

Collage that shows the valleys of the Maumee Mars (upper half) overlayed with channels on the island Devon in Nunavut (lower half). The shape of the channels, as well as the overall network, it seems almost identical. – Anna Grau Galofre

And, what happens with the life ? Although a priori a environment ice cream may suggest that beings biological had more problems to develop, in reality it is the opposite: these landscapes bear best conditions of survival , since a layer of ice would provide more protection and stability to the underlying water, in addition to providing shelter from the solar radiation -which is incident on Mars more than on Earth because the red planet lost for a thousand million years, your natural shield and now devoid of him.

Other applications that are more “earthly”

Although the research of Grau Galofre focused on Mars, the analytical tools developed for this work can be applied to discover more about the beginning of the history of our own planet . In fact, Jellinek proposes that they will use the new algorithms to analyze and explore the characteristics of erosion that remain of the history of the Earth very early. “Currently we are able to reconstruct rigorously the history of the global glaciation in the Earth that dates to about a million to five million years-says Jellinek-. The work of Grau will allow us to explore the advance and retreat of the ice sheets for at least 35 million years, until the beginnings of the Antarctic, or before that, previous to the age of our ice cores older”.

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