Journal of Earth Science

, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 1049–1058 | Cite as

Geomorphologic Characteristics of Polygonal Features on Chloride-Bearing Deposits on Mars: Implications for Martian Hydrology and Astrobiology

  • Binlong Ye
  • Jun HuangEmail author
  • Joseph Michalski
  • Long Xiao
Paleontology, Environmental Geology and Planetary Geology


Over 600 chloride-bearing deposits (chlorides) have been identified on the southern highlands of Mars. These chlorides have critical implications for hydrology and astrobiology: they are indicators of an evaporating super saturated solution, and they could have provided habitat environments for halophilic microorganisms and preserved organic matter. One of the prominent geomorphology characteristics of these chloride-bearing regions is the polygonal features within them. The origin of these polygonal features is still in debate. In this study, we have surveyed 153 locations of chlorides using 441 high resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) images to characterize the geomorphology of polygonal features. We identified 3 types of polygonal features of distinct geomorphologic characteristics: fractures, raised ridges, and transitional polygons between fractures and raised ridges. We evaluate previously proposed hypotheses of the formation of the polygonal features, and suggest that the 3 types of polygonal features are indicators of different stages of salt crust formation. Salt crust is usually formed through multiple groundwater activities, and it often occurs in playa environment on Earth. The unique hydrological and astrobiological implications of the chlorides with polygonal features make these deposits of high priority for future landed on and/or sample return exploration missions of Mars.

Key words

chlorides polygonal feature playa hydrology astrobiology Mars 


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We thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that help to improve the quality of the manuscript. JMARS ( and ArcGIS are used in data query, analysis and visualization. All the remote sensing data of Mars are available at the Planetary Data System ( Jun Huang was supported by the National Scientific Foundation of China (Nos. 41403052, 41773061, 41830214), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) (Nos. CUGL160402, CUG2017G02) and the Lunar and Planetary Science Laboratory, Macau University of Science and Technology Partner Laboratory of Key Laboratory of Lunar and Deep Space Exploration, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Nos. 039/2013/A2, 121/2017/A3). Binlong Ye was supported by the National Training Program of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Undergraduates (No. 201610491122). We thank Mr. Jiang Wang and Ms. Ting Huang for their constructive comments of the Qaidam Basin and astrobiology application. The final publication is available at Springer via

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Copyright information

© China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, Part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Planetary Science Institute, School of Earth SciencesChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.Department of Earth Sciences and Laboratory for Space ResearchUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina

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