Research Press Release

Planetary science: How mud might flow on Mars

Nature Geoscience

May 19, 2020

The behaviour of mud flows under the low pressures and low temperatures of the Martian surface may be similar to lava flows on Earth, according to a study published online in Nature Geoscience.

Thousands of volcano-like landforms associated with lava-like flows dot the surface of Mars. Some have been attributed to magmatic volcanism. These landforms occur in terrains covered by sediments thought to have been deposited by ancient floods, and the rapid burial of wet sediments could have resulted in sedimentary volcanism. However, little is known about how mud would flow on Mars.

Petr Brož and colleagues carried out experiments to investigate the propagation of mud over a cold surface under Martian surface conditions. The authors poured mud into a tilted tray in the Open University Mars Chamber and multiple cameras recorded the resulting mud propagation. They observed that the mud flows did not behave like typical Earth mud flows, but instead resembled ropy and jagged terrestrial lava flows with a frozen crust rapidly forming around lobes of mud.

The findings suggest that flows on Mars and other frigid bodies — such as the dwarf planet Ceres — might be the product of mud volcanism, rather than evidence of magmatic activity.


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