“We found that at least a quarter of the total eroded volume of Martian valley networks were carved by lake breach floods,” Planetary Science Institute (PSI) research scientist Alexander Morgan explains in a statement.
In today’s Andes and Himalayas, increased glacier melt is bloating lakes, increasing the risk of outburst floods. The concern over these floods is not so much how they may reshape the landscape, but instead the destructive threat they pose to life and property in the fertile and populated valleys below.
“It’s been known for a while that a few select Martian valleys were formed from lake overflow flooding, but our study is the first global analysis,” Morgan said.
“Our results show that many Martian valleys are in fact more analogous to catastrophic floods on Earth, such as those that shaped the northwest United States at the end of the last glacial period,” Morgan says.
Mars is one of the smallest planets in our solar system, but it’s also home to some of the largest, deepest and most dramatic systems of canyons and valleys ever spied by human (or robotic) eyes. New research suggests many of these Martian features were formed by catastrophic climate-driven events of the sort that are currently becoming a more significant threat here on Earth.
“The science behind the devastation they trigger is the same,” PSI says.
Both on Mars and Earth, the catastrophic, landscape-altering floods were driven by warming climates. Mars would eventually go on to lose most of its atmosphere and its surface water. Here on Earth, the climate has seen an accelerated warming of late thanks to human-caused climate change.