Mars Supervolcanoes? Evidence Points to Destructive Occurrences

Image: Mars Supervolcanoes? Evidence Points to Destructive Occurrences

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 07:02 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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Possible evidence from NASA’s rover that supervolcanoes blasted the atmosphere of Mars with a tremendous release of gases could change the way scientists view the Red Planet’s formation.

It’s been known for some time that Mars has big volcanoes, but supervolcanoes fall into another category. Unlike a normal volcano that leaves a mountain around it after an eruption (picture Mount St. Helens), supervolcanoes contain so much below-ground pressure that, when they erupt, the ground collapses.

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Interestingly, historic eruptions of supervolcanoes may have made the Martian atmosphere more likely to contain life, the BBC said, by bringing up water reserves and other elements from deep underground.

“Thousands of cubic kilometres of material would have been erupted, and that's a minimum. In terms of size, it would be very similar to Yellowstone — about 70km across,” Dr. Joe Michalski, one of the two scientists who wrote about Mars’ supervolcanoes, told Bthe BC. “So, imagine driving for an hour; it would take you most of that time to get across this hole in the ground.”

Michalski, along with Jacob E. Bleacher, wrote about the findings in Nature journal.

Scientists have been interpreting the data being returned from NASA’s Curiosity rover, and in the last few weeks there have been announcements of water found in Mars soil and no evidence – so far – of life on the planet that is one of science fiction’s favorite locations for aliens.

Evidence that continues to come in from the rover should help scientists create a better picture of the planet and how it was formed.

“If future work shows that supervolcanoes were present more widely on ancient Mars, it would completely change estimates of how the atmosphere formed from volcanic gases, how sediments formed from volcanic ash and how habitable the surface might have been,” Michalski told BBC.

Supervolcanoes on earth include Yellowstone in the United States and Toba in Sumatra.

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Related stories:

Mars Soil Analysis Reveals Surprising Amount of Water

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