Surface of Mars shows scars of glaciers just like Canada’s High Arctic: study

Surface of Mars shows scars of glaciers just like Canada’s High Arctic: study

VANCOUVER — The deep valleys scarred into the surface of Mars under thick sheets of ice show that the planet once mirrored the Canadian High Arctic, says a new study.

Published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study says many of the valley networks carved into the surface of Mars were formed by water melting beneath glacial ice. It means there were fewer free-flowing rivers than previously thought.

Study author Anna Grau Galofre, a former University of British Columbia PhD student in the department of Earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences, said about 3.5 billion years ago the Martian surface looked like the surface of Canada 20,000 years ago.

“We’re talking about a planet that’s painted like a brother of Earth,” she said.

Grau Galofre and her team compared surface data of Mars with that of Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic.

The study describes Devon Island as a cold, dry, polar desert, where the glaciers and their retreat imitate what took place on Mars billions of years ago.

“Imagine ice sheets that are kilometres thick, really, really thick,” she said.

“If you were to just lift the ice sheet and see below, you would see a landscape. And this landscape is constituted of several different channels, expanded pathways like the plumbing of the ice.”

What this tells scientists is that while there may have been a warm and wet Mars on which there was rainfall, it’s far more likely that the planet’s surface resembled that of the Canadian Arctic, she said.

“It is like a time evolution of the climate that we’re looking at here. There were the warm and wet periods that talked about the oceans. And there were the cold and icy periods.”

This could mean that the climate on Mars either changed slowly through time from a cooler to a warmer period, or the other way around, she said.

The new findings brings up an “interesting discussion point” about life on Mars, Grau Galofre said.

“That’s actually not a bad thing in terms of an environment to sustain life.”

Lake Vostok on Antarctica is covered by a thick sheet of ice but has plenty of life, such as bacteria, she said.

“And they have been there for a long time, up to a million years, pretty much isolated by the ice sheet.”

The ice guarantees the creatures get water and also provides a stable environment, especially on a planet like Mars, which can have searing days and freezing nights, said Grau Galofre.

The ice sheet also protects life from solar radiation, she added.

The study could be expanded to include the Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars because it may have once harboured life, she said.

Mars is the first and obvious place to start looking for life because it still has northern and southern ice caps, as well as a small fraction of water in the atmosphere, Grau Galofre said.

Evidence of water shows there is life or there was a time when life existed, she said.

“That’s a big step in terms of trying to answer this question — where are we coming from and are we alone in the universe,” Grau Galofre said.

“I think by finding life somewhere else in the universe we can also answer a lot about what is life and what are we doing here.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2020.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central zone has 20 active cases of COVID-19

Province identified 143 new cases across Alberta on Wednesday

Black and Indigenous Alliance at Wetaskiwin City Hall

The Alliance gathered Saturday for a peaceful protest on City Hall grounds.

COVID-19: Active cases in central zone up Tuesday

Central zone active cases remains lowest of all zones

Central zone active cases down to 20

Province provides update

Ladies Golf Scramble raises $3,355 for local charity

All proceeds raised will be donated to the Education Plus Fund for the WRPS district.

Liberals vow wage-subsidy extension to 2021, revamp of EI system in throne speech

Canadian labour market was hammered by pandemic, when lockdowns in the spring led to a loss of 3 million jobs

First annual Best of Wetaskiwin Readers’ Choice Awards

Enter to win a $200 gift card for Canadian Tire.

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Grand jury indicts police officer in Breonna Taylor death

Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment

Missionary plane dedicated at Ponoka, Lacombe airports

MiracleAir flies humanitarian missions to Nicaragua

RCMP investigating after far-right groups disrupt anti-racism rally in Alberta

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said she respects the right of peaceful assembly, but denounces racism and violence

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

Public health officials urge Canadians to limit contacts again as COVID-19 cases rise

Canada has committed $1 billion to buy at least 154 million doses of vaccines from five different companies

Most Read