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A formational model for the polygonal terrains of Mars: Taking a crack at the genesis of the Martian polygonsThe mechanism for the genesis of the polygonal terrains in Acidalia and Utopia Planitia has long been sought: however, no completely satisfying model was put forth that characterizes the evolution of these complexly patterned terrains. The polygons are roughly hexagonal but some are not entirely enclosed by fractures. These polygonal features range in widths from approximately 5 to 20 km. Several origins were proposed that describe the polygon borders as desiccation cracks, columnar jointing in a cooled lava, or frost-wedge features. These tension-induced cracking hypotheses were addressed by Pechmann, who convincingly disputes these mechanisms of formation based on scale magnitude difficulties and morphology. Pechmann suggests instead that the cracks delineating the 5-20-km-wide polygons on the northern plains of Mars are graben resulting from deep-seated, uniform, horizontal tension. The difficulty with this hypothesis is that no analogous polygonal forms are known to have originated by tectonism on Earth. McGill and Hills propose that the polygonal terrains on Mars resulted from either rapid desiccation of sediments or cooling of volcanics coupled with differential compaction of the material over a buried irregular topographic surface. They suggest that fracturing was enhanced over the areas of positive relief and was suppressed above the topographic lows. McGill and Hills suggest that the spacing of the topographic highs primarily controls the size of the Martian polygons and the physics of the shrinkage process is a secondary concern. Ray et. al. conducted a terrestrial study of patterned ground in periglacial areas of the U.S. to determine the process responsible for polygonal ground formation. They developed a model for polygon formation in which convection of seasonal melt water above a permafrost layer, driven by an unstable density stratification, differentially melts the permafrost interface, causing it to become undulatory.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Wenrich, M. L. (Arizona State Univ. Tempe, AZ, United States)
Christensen, P. R. (Arizona State Univ. Tempe, AZ, United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1993
Publication Information
Publication: Lunar and Planetary Inst., Workshop on the Martian Northern Plains: Sedimentological, Periglacial, and Paleoclimatic Evolution
Subject Category
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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