Processes of lunar crater degradation: Changes in style with geologic time
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Lunar crater degradation can be divided into two time periods based on differing styles and rates of crater degradation processes. Comparison of lunar radiometric age scales and the relative degradation of crater morphologic features for craters larger than about 5 km diam shows that Period I, prior to about 3.85–3.95 b.y. ago, is characterized by a high influx rate and by formation of large, multi-ringed basins. Period II, from about 3.85–3.95 b.y. to present, is characterized by a much lower influx rate and lack of large multi-ringed basins. Craters formed throughout Period II show generally constant morphologic characteristics. Craters formed in Period I show markedly different characteristics although their residence time could not have increased more than 15% over the total time of Period II. The vast majority of crater degradation of Period I craters took place nearly coincident with their time of formation.
Elements of crater degradation and modification during Period I include destruction of crater exterior, rim, and wall facies and structures, decrease in crater depth, and increase in crater floor width. Examination of fresh crater geometry reveals that major changes in crater depth and floor width parameters can occur with the addition of only minor volumes of material as crater fill. Volumes sufficient to produce these characteristic changes are readily available in the surrounding crater wall and rim deposits and can be derived by erosion associated with the observed morphologic changes. Depositional mechanisms associated with lunar landslides are capable of moving material across the crater floor-wall boundary while maintaining and propagating the characteristic break in slope. A prime source of crater degradation during Period I is related to the formation of multiringed basins. The widespread ballistic sedimentation associated with the formation of these basins produces a near-saturation bombardment which excavates and mobilizes large volumes of local material and preferentially moves it into nearby low regions. Seismic effects contribute to degradation by enhancing slope instability and by mobilizing material for downslope movement. The net effect for a crater influenced by multi-ringed basin formation is a tendency toward destruction of crater facies and structure by near-saturation bombardment and seismic effects, the erosion and mobilization of crater material, and the redeposition of this material in nearby low regions, primarily on the crater floor. This process appears to be of major importance in the degradation and modification of craters, in generation of interior crater fill, and in the formation and propagation of Cayley-type plains surfaces.
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