Application of Terrestrial Exploration Techniques to Locate Martian
Inclusive Dates: 05/23/05 09/23/05
Background - Water is the most important Martian exploration target because it is key to finding evidence of past life and provides a crucial resource for future exploration. While water is thought to be present in vapor, liquid, and ice phases on Mars, little direct evidence of current surface water has been found, except polar ice. Previous research has addressed potential sources of water (meteoric water, glacial ice, volcanic centers) and areas of discharge (outflow channels). Missing from these analyses is a robust understanding of the extent and migration of water in the subsurface from sources to the areas of discharge, and the distribution of water or ice in the Martian subsurface today. Global scale thermal modeling and analysis of the stability of ground ice provide important constraints on the potential locations of large deposits; however, these studies have not accounted for variations in stratigraphy and structure that may strongly influence its local distribution. Outflow channel distribution strongly suggests that structural, stratigraphic, and geomorphic features are first-order controls on the past and present distribution of water and ice on Mars, as on Earth.
Approach - Project tasks focused on data analysis and developing a methodology for analyzing potential resource locations using stratigraphic and structural characterization techniques. These techniques included 1) integration of high-resolution stereo camera (HRSC) data into our existing database to provide high-resolution topographic data necessary to perform stratigraphic and structural analyses; 2) location and characterization of example sites for which stratigraphic and structural analyses can be performed; 3) utilization of published results from complementary data sets (e.g., mineral maps) to confirm correlation between structure (e.g., faults, stratigraphy) and outflow channels; and 4) integration of these analyses to develop approaches to exploration prospects.
Accomplishments - Staff performed extensive work on 1) developing the capability to work with the new HRSC data, including processing and integration into our existing Mars database; 2) determining local stratigraphic correlations to interpret subsurface stratigraphic relationships; 3) performing structural analyses of faulting and surface channels to evaluate subsurface flow characteristics; and 4) augmenting our interpretations using recently published reports on hydrated mineral deposits. Building on these analyses, a Martian water-resources exploration methodology was developed, leveraging terrestrial resource exploration concepts and currently available data. Results of these analyses led to two conference presentations, one NASA grant proposal that is a direct outgrowth of this project, and two other NASA proposals that benefited from this work.