An active mantle plume with a diameter of about 4,000 km may lie below the northern plains of Mars, pushing the crust upward and bringing hot magma to the surface, according to a paper published in Nature Astronomy this week. The plume, located in the Elysium Planitia region, could explain the area’s volcanic and seismic activity.
Mars has typically been considered a geologically inactive world due to a lack of evidence of present-day tectonics and volcanic eruptions, especially compared to Earth. However, recently the NASA InSight lander, which has been on Mars since 2018, detected low but constant seismic activity, which may originate from a nearby system of recently formed fissures called Cerberus Fossae. Cerberus Fossae was also the location of Mars’s most recent volcanic event 53,000 years ago.
Adrien Broquet and Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna analysed the topography, gravity, and geology of the Elysium Planitia region, where both InSight and Cerberus Fossae are located. Using geophysical models the authors found evidence that the whole area sits over a mantle plume of hot material 95–285 Kelvin warmer than its surroundings. The centre of the plume is located precisely at Cerberus Fossae. Similarly to Earth, the presence of an active plume drives local sustained geological activity, including the marsquakes detected by InSight, and is the cause of the slow opening of the crust beneath the Cerberus Fossae.
These findings may indicate that Mars is only the third body in the inner Solar System, after the Earth and Venus, with currently active mantle plumes.
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