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Ma'adim Vallis Estuarine Delta in Elysium Basin and Its Relevance as a Landing Site for Exobiology Exploration on MarsThe debouche of Ma'adim Vallis in the Elysium Basin generated a transitional transported sediment structure, which planimetric shape is controlled by the enclosing topography of a deep reentrant gulf of the Basin into the highland. We defined it as an estuarine delta. The location and the importance of this estuarine delta is supported by the theoretical model of graded profile constructed for Ma'adim Vallis, and by two approaches: (i) the reconstruction of Ma'adim Vallis downstream course from Gusev to Elysium Basin, and (ii) the survey of the sediment deposit in the alleged estuary. The longitudinal graded profile of Ma'adim Vallis finds its base-level in the Elysium Basin, at a about 1000 m elevation, which is in agreement with the observed Basin shoreline. This model is supported by observational evidence of flow between the northern rim of Gusev crater, and the Elysium Basin shoreline. This downstream course of Ma'adim Vallis can be divided into three hydrogeologic regions. into three hydrogeologic regions. (a) The first region is a flooded plain (Zephiria Mensae), consisting in chaotic terrain formed by highland rocks, and disintegrated lava of the western flank of Apollinaris. Morphologic indicators of the flood process are: (1) the sediment deposit over the Gusev crater northern rim that reflects the overspilling of the crater-lake water through a 40-km wide gap provided by an ancient impact crater, (2) the tear-drop shaped feature on the northeastern flank of Apollinaris Patera, and (3) the chaotic terrain that suggest the emergence of ground water generated by the seepage of the crater lake through high-permeable broken rampart material. This underground water circulation sustained by the hydrostatic pressure of the crater-lake has likely generated a hydrothermal system in the volcanic environment of Apollinaris Patera. The stratigraphy of the flooded area is identified as Hesperian age, with occurrences of Noachian hilly individual features, and as Amazonian flooded plain and chaotic material, (b) The second region is located on the western flank of Apollinaris Patera. It is surrounded by relics of deep valleys that suggest a former downstream course of Ma'adim Vallis. The geologic setting of this region (Lucus Planum) is interpreted to be an Amazonian formation composed by the middle and lower members of the Medusae Formation., c) The third region corresponds to the convergence of the west and east branches of Ma'adirn Vallis into a deep re-entrant wide gulf that penetrates about 100 km into the highland. This topographic depression is delineated by the 1000 in elevation contour. This gulf has formed an estuarine configuration centered at 3S/190W within the Elysium Basin. This configuration has favored the formation of a estuarine sedimentary delta, because of topographically controlled lateral migration. This estuarine structure is strongly dominated by the incoming supply of Ma'adim Vallis fluvial sediment extracted from Zephiria Mensae and Lucus Planum. The obtuse-angle geometry of the estuary increases the sedimentation rate, which is higher than in the course of the channel. The sediment deposition process is governed by the estuarine water circulation. The inflowing loaded fluvial water enters the estuary as a bottom current, and mixes with the relatively less-loaded water of the receiving basin. When they mixed. the inflowing fluvial material, and the landward basin circulating water generate an accumulation of highly-diversified estuarine deposit stratification. This accumulation of material is mostly centered in the transitional zone of the delta. The sediment trapping efficiency of the estuary is function of the energy balance between the inflowing fluvial water, and the ingoing basin current. The submergence of the delta by the rising of the water-level increases the estuary water-depth, and consequently the sediment entrapment is favored. The locus of sediment accumulation moves landward in the zone of inflowing fluvial water. This results in the rising of the channel base-level, thus in the increase of the length of the longitudinal graded-profile. The sediment deposit facies of the zone A shows a generally smooth surface. The longitudinal deposit is bordered by alluvial terraces that reflect the variations of the channel level. The waning of the Elysium Basin caused the erosion of the Basin estuarine zone by small channels, this episode being characterized by dissected tear-drop shaped mesa-like morphologies in the delta. Our estuarine delta model predicts a lithostratigraphic depositional sequence associated with the water submergence and the transgression of Elysium Basin. The thickness of the estuarine sediment corresponds to the Elysium Basin levels changes relatively to the bed floor of the estuary, The depositional sequence of Ma'adim Vallis are described: (1) a pro-current filled region (A), where fluvial are longitudinally accumulated by the inflowing water, (2) inverse current from Elysium Basin (B), where fluvial and lacustrine sediments are accumulated, and (3) zone of current equilibrium (C), where the sediments are distributed as a shoreline at the boundary of the estuarine delta. The estuary sedimentology dynamics collects and keeps the record of the geologic unit material crossed by Ma'adim Vallis, and those of the lakebed deposit of Elysium Basin. The predicted mixed stratigraphic sequence from fluvial and lacustrine sediment makes this site an exceptional environment to concentrate potential multi-origin biologic records. We envision four possible strategies to explore this sedimentologic record: (1) longitudinal surface and subsurface traverses in region A to investigate outcrop levees, (2) exploration of the mesa walls in region B, (3) deep drilling hole lodging of the sequential deposits in the zones A and B, and (4) surface and subsurface exploration of the shoreline delta. The expected results for each of these strategies are: (1) in the deepest layers of region A are predicted frequent and abundant coarse material, sandy lenses lamination grading downward from sand to cobbles. Volcanic debris from the Noachian crustal Plateau unit material, hydrothermal altered rocks, carbonates, Hesperian and possibly Amazonian volcanic material, from Apollinaris Patera, altered rocks and carbonates from Zephiria Mensae are expected. As a favorable environment for inception of life, possible biological records are expected in transported rock, (2) At the surface, and subsurface (<=100 m), large deposits sandy to silted material from Elysium paleolake basin mixed with fine-grained sediments from Ma'adim Vallis are expected mostly in the upstream part of region B, (3) on the shoreline of the estuarine delta, abundant fine material from Elysium paleolake basin (evaporites, carbonates), mostly Amazonian in age are expected. The Ma'adini estuary is a favorable landing site for all the above mentioned science aspects, and .for its location. The site lies near the equator, which is favorable for the rover solar power supply, and at 1000m elevation, which is a favorable configuration for the descent system braking. Another advantage is the extent of the area of high scientific interest (33,000 sq km), which provides a good ellipse, and potential long study traverses.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Grin, E. A. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
Cabrol, N. A. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1998
Publication Information
Publication: Mars Surveyor 2001 Landing Site Workshop
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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