Report Summary: A vast range of different gully morphologies occurs on Mars: from the classical gullies, which resemble gullies on Earth, to linear gullies that do not have an Earth counterpart and are found on Martian dunes. Previous experiments have shown that the sublimation of CO2 ice can fluidise and transport sediment in the classical gullies on Mars. However, the linear gullies are hypothesised to form by a different, although related CO2-driven mechanism. For linear dune gullies, it is hypothesised that they form by a block of CO2-ice sliding down the dune. This process has, however, never been observed in real life.
With our visit to the Mars chamber at the Open University, we aimed at deciphering the triggering and forming mechanisms of linear dune gullies on Mars. We identified the possible triggering mechanisms based on hypotheses presented in the literature. The identified mechanisms are; 1) the breaking off and sliding down of CO2-ice blocks, and 2) wind-blown sand being deposited on CO2 frost. We systematically tested these mechanisms in the Mars Chamber at the Open University by means of experiments. For all identified triggering mechanisms a parameter space was used to test the influence of e.g. CO2-ice block size, surface slope and grain size.
With our experiments, we show that CO2-ice blocks slide downslope and create small narrow gullies when dumped on top of fluvial sand, with a large grain-size distribution. However, when dumped on a finer aeolian sand under Martian atmosphere, they do not slide downslope but they dig themselves into the sand, slowly digging a gully downslope by vigorous sublimation and sediment mobilisation. We also show that when a small amount of warm sand is dumped on top of a CO2-frosted the sand is mobilised by CO2 sublimation, but that this process does not create the typical linear gullies we see on Mars.
Report Summary: Our experimental campaign aimed to understand sediment transport driven by CO2 ice sublimation condensed inside a porous regolith. To quantify the erosion of sediment associated with the sublimation of CO2 frost in the subsurface of a ~30° slope, we tested various compositions (MGS-1, sand, sand-dust mixtures). While some sediment showed little to no activity over several attempts (sand), others showed significant slope activity (sand + >=10% MGS clay).
Report Summary: This project was designed to extend previous research of mud behaviour in the low-pressure conditions – with implications for potential sedimentary volcanism on Mars. The main objective was to test the effect of ice (or combined ice-sand) substrate to flow abilities and finite morphology of mudflows. As secondary objectives, testing of various inclinations of the surface, investigation of potential thermal erosion and extended study of another type of surfaces were implemented.
In the first part of the project, nine successful experiments, with pure and variously inclined (2-10°) ice surface, confirmed a different style of mud propagation than in case of the frozen sandy surface. The major observations are: 1) dominant and prevailing boiling of mud mixture during the propagation over deeply frozen ice surface (confirms significance of latent heat related to melting/recrystallization), 2) explosive potential of ice when in contact with the boiling mud (fracturing, contraction-dilatation). The effect of slope in tested range has no significant impact on these observations.
The second type of experiments tested combined ice-sand upper lid. Here, transition between boiling and freezing of mudflows was faster and finite morphology was more similar to lava-like flows which were described by Brož et al. (2020a).
In both cases, the thermal erosion was not confirmed. Moreover, during sectioning and investigation of the finite mudflow shapes and their base, the developed bumps, irregularities or even increased porosity of ice lid were discovered. This might refer to more complex thermal exchange between ice and mud with a sequential melting and re-freezing.
Report Summary: Martian gullies are alcove-channel-fan systems that have been hypothesized to be formed by the action of liquid water and brines, the effects of sublimating CO2 ice, or a combination of these processes. Recent activity and new flow deposits in these systems have shifted the leading hypothesis from water-based flows to CO2-driven flows, as it is hard to reconcile present activity with the low availability of atmospheric water under present Martian conditions. Direct observations of flows driven by metastable CO2 on the surface of Mars are however nonexistent, and our knowledge of CO2-driven flows under Martian conditions remains limited. For the first time, CO2-driven granular flows were produced in a small-scale flume under Martian atmospheric conditions in the Mars Chamber at the Open University (UK). The experiments were used to quantify the slope threshold and CO2 fraction limits for fluidisation. With these experiments, we show that the sublimation of CO2 can fluidize sediment and sustain granular flows under Martian atmospheric conditions. The morphology of the deposits is lobate and depends highly on the CO2-sediment ratio, sediment grain size, and flume angle. The gas-driven granular flows are sustained under low (<20o) flume angles and small volumes of CO2 (around 5% of the entire flow). Pilot experiments with sediment flowing over a layer of CO2 suggest that even smaller percentages of CO2 ice are needed for fluidisation. The data further shows that the flow dynamics are complex with surging behavior and complex pressure distribution in the flow, through time and space.
Report Summary: We performed multiple mud experiments inside a low-pressure chamber to investigate whether the volume of mud changes once exposed to the reduced atmospheric pressure of Mars. Our results show that mud extruded onto the surface under martian environmental conditions increases its volume and hence behaves differently than on Earth. The low atmospheric pressure causes instability of the water present in the mud mixture, leading to the formation of bubbles, which increase the volume of the mud.
These bubbles are then trapped within the mud. The buoyancy of the bubbles is not sufficient to overcome the drag force within the viscous material and rise to the surface. Hence, these bubbles remain trapped and gradually grow up to centimetre scale sizes. During their growth they push the mud out of the container resulting in horizontal and vertical inflation of the mud surface over cm-scales.
This behaviour is not observed at terrestrial mud flows, but it is somewhat similar to volumetric changes associated with degassing of some terrestrial lavas or mud volcano eruptions. Our experimental approach hence shows that viscous mud exposed to reduced atmospheric pressure behaves differently to on Earth.
Abstract: On planetary bodies unlike Earth, landforms may be created that look similar to those found on Earth but are actually produced by disparate and so-far unknown processes. Therefore, extra-terrestrial landforms assumed to be created by liquid water may in fact be formed by process-volatile interactions unknown to Earth. We propose an ambitious set of laboratory simulations to quantify the environmental and physical limits of sediment mass flows triggered by metastable CO2 under reduced atmospheric pressures. The laboratory simulations become possible by a unique synergy where an experimental setup for simulating mass flows developed at Utrecht University is placed in the Mars Chamber at The Open University, to for the first time generate mass flows supported by CO2 in different phases under a range of atmospheric pressures ranging from terrestrial to martian. Advanced measurement devices allow us to measure fluidisation upon triggering, flow dynamics downslope, and deposit morphologies under controlled conditions. This will provide a major step towards solving the long-lasting debate on the possible role of present-day volatiles in martian gully formation and its paleoclimatic implication. Our results will inform future mission-planning, and open up new understanding of slope processes on other planetary bodies.