Mega Tsunami on Mars?
Evidence Suggests a Giant Asteroid Caused a Devastating Martian Mega tsunami
Multiple lines of evidence indicate that Mars was not always a desiccated dustbowl.
In fact, the red planet was once so wet and sluggish that it unleashed a megatsunami, crashing across the landscape like watery doom. What caused this calamity? A giant asteroid impact, comparable to Earth’s Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago, which killed the dinosaurs, according to new research.
The Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, led by planetary scientist Alexis Rodriguez, has discovered an enormous impact crater that they believe is the most likely source of the mystery wave.
They named it Pohl and discovered it in an area ravaged by catastrophic flood erosion discovered in the 1970s, possibly on the edge of an ancient ocean.
When NASA’s Viking 1 probe landed on Mars in 1976, near a large flood channel system called Maja Valles, it discovered something unusual: a boulder-strewn plain rather than the features expected of a landscape transformed by a megaflood.
In a 2016 paper, a team of scientists led by Rodriguez determined that this was the result of tsunami waves resurfacing the shoreline of an ancient Martian ocean.
They hypothesized at the time that two tsunamis were caused by separate impact events 3.4 and 3 billion years ago. The Lomonsov crater was identified as the source of the later tsunami by numerical simulations.
However, the cause of the previous tsunami remained unknown. The northern plains, where a Martian ocean is thought to have once lain, are heavily cratered and difficult to interpret. Rodriguez and his colleagues painstakingly combed maps of Mars’ surface for impact craters that could be linked to massive tsunamis.
They discovered Pohl, a crater 110 kilometers across and 120 meters (394 feet) below what scientists believe would have been sea level, in the Chryse Planitia, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of the Viking 1 landing site.
The researchers hypothesized that Pohl formed around 3.4 billion years ago based on rocks around the crater that had previously been dated. Furthermore, its proximity to flood-eroded surfaces and hypothesized mega tsunami deposits suggests that the crater formed as a result of a marine impact.
To validate their suspicions, the researchers ran impact simulations, changing the parameters of the impactor and the surface it collided with. They discovered two scenarios that fit the observed site.
First, a 9-kilometer-wide asteroid collides with strong ground resistance, resulting in a 13-million-megaton explosion. The other scenario involved a 3-kilometer-wide asteroid colliding with weak ground resistance and releasing 0.5 million megatons of TNT energy.
Both scenarios produced a crater 110 kilometers across in the simulations, unleashing a mega tsunami that traveled as far as 1,500 kilometers from the impact site, easily covering the region around Maja Valles.
The simulations also matched the boulder-strewn landscape as ejecta from the impact was carried and deposited by the tsunami, which reached a height of 250 meters in the case of the 3-kilometer asteroid.
The researchers write, “Our simulated impact-generated mega tsunami run-ups closely match the mapped older mega tsunami deposit’s margins and predict fronts reaching the Viking 1 landing site.”
“A mega tsunami origin is supported by the site’s location along a highland-facing lobe aligned with erosional grooves.”
According to the researchers, the site is similar to the Chicxulub impact.
Both occurred in a shallow marine environment, created a similar sized temporary cavity in the ground, and (according to simulations) generated a tsunami taller than 200 meters.
“Our findings allow that rocks and soil salts at the landing site are of marine origin,” they write, “inviting scientific reconsideration of information gathered from the first in-situ measurements on Mars.”
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