Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Future Mars colonists may tap exposed ICE CLIFFS for water

Future Mars colonists may tap exposed ICE CLIFFS for water

The ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration.

However, some of it stayed behind, transforming into ice that settled under the rocky surface. Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent.

In 2001, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft discovered, through the detection of hydrogen using gamma rays, that a third of Mars' surface is covered in shallow ice and its poles are full of ice deposits. I think it's sort of a game-changer.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been circling the Red Planet for over 10 years now, sending back wonderful pictures of the Martian surface, using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

The results revealed massive subsurface ice sheets on the planet extending from just below the surface to a depth of at least 100 meters (328ft).

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These underground cliffs, or scarps, appear "to be almost pure ice", said the report. However, their recent discovery, which suggests the ice is only a few feet below the surface, could make the water much easier to funnel.

Colin Dundas, a geologist at the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, and his co-authors studied the image and discovered the steep cliffs that appeared to be pure ice. "It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground".

Scientists said once the buried ice is exposed to Mars' atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it retreats.

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars.

A team led by USGS scientist Colin Dundas used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which identified eight locations on the Red Planet which have steep, pole-facing cliffs, some as high as 325 feet that reveals slabs of clear ice, exposed by the forces of erosion.

"Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need", Byrne said.

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