Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 285-336

First online:

Global stratigraphy of Venus: analysis of a random

  • Alexander T. BasilevskyAffiliated withDepartment of Geological Sciences, Brown UniversityVernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • , James W. HeadIIIAffiliated withDepartment of Geological Sciences, Brown University

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The age relations between 36 impact craters with dark paraboloids and other geologic units and structures at these localities have been studied through photogeologic analysis of Magellan SAR images of the surface of Venus. Geologic settings in all 36 sites, about 1000 × 1000 km each, could be characterized using only 10 different terrain units and six types of structures. These units and structures form a major stratigraphic and geologic sequence (from oldest to youngest): 1) tessera terrain; 2) densely fractured terrains associated with coronae and in the form of remnants among plains; 3) fractured and ridged plains and ridge belts; 4) plains with wrinkle ridges; 5) ridges associated with coronae annulae and ridges of arachnoid annulae which are contemporary with wrinkle ridges of the ridged plains; 6) smooth and lobate plains; 7) fractures of coronae annulae, and fractures not related to coronae annulae, which disrupt ridged and smooth plains; 8) rift-associated fractures; 9) craters with associated dark paraboloids, which represent the youngest 10% of the Venus impact crater population (Campbellet al., 1992), and are on top of all volcanic and tectonic units except the youngest episodes of rift-associated fracturing and volcanism; surficial streaks and patches are approximately contemporary with dark-paraboloid craters.

Mapping of such units and structures in 36 randomly distributed large regions (each ∼ 106 km2) shows evidence for a distinctive regional and global stratigraphic and geologic sequence. On the basis of this sequence we have developed a model that illustrates several major themes in the history of Venus. Most of the history of Venus (that of its first 80% or so) is not preserved in the surface geomorphological record. The major deformation associated with tessera formation in the period sometime between 0.5–1.0 b.y. ago (Ivanov and Basilevsky, 1993) is the earliest event detected. In the terminal stages of tessera formation, extensive parallel linear graben swarms representing a change in the style of deformation from shortening to extension were formed on the tessera and on some volcanic plains that were emplaced just after (and perhaps also during the latter stages of the major compressional phase of tessera emplacement. Our stratigraphic analyses suggest that following tessera formation, extensive volcanic flooding resurfaced at least 85% of the planet in the form of the presently-ridged and fractured plains. Several lines of evidence favor a high flux in the post-tessera period but we have no independent evidence for the absolute duration of ridged plains emplacement. During this time, the net state of stress in the lithosphere apparently changed from extensional to compressional, first in the form of extensive ridge belt development, followed by the formation of extensive wrinkle ridges on the flow units. Subsequently, there occurred local emplacement of smooth and lobate plains units which are presently essentially undeformed. The major events in the latest 10% of the presently preserved history of Venus (less than 50 m.y. ago) are continued rifting and some associated volcanism, and the redistribution of eolian material largely derived from impact crater deposits.

Detailed geologic mapping and stratigraphic synthesis are necessary to test this sequence and to address many of the outstanding problems raised by this analysis. For example, we are uncertain whether this stratigraphic sequence corresponds to geologic events which were generally synchronous in all the sites and all around the planet, or whether the sequence is simply a typical sequence of events which occurred in different places at different times. In addition, it is currently unknown whether the present state represents a normal consequence of the general thermal evolution of Venus (and is thus representative of the level of geological activity predicted for the future), or if Venus, has been characterized by a sequence of periodic global changes in the composition and thermal state of its crust and upper mantle (in which case, Venus could in the future return to levels of deformation and resurfacing typical of the period of tessera formation).