Space Science Reviews

, 215:10 | Cite as

Geologic Constraints on Early Mars Climate

  • Edwin S. KiteEmail author


Early Mars climate research has well-defined goals (MEPAG 2018). Achieving these goals requires geologists and climate modelers to coordinate. Coordination is easier if results are expressed in terms of well-defined parameters. Key parameters include the following quantitative geologic constraints. (1) Cumulative post-3.4 Ga precipitation-sourced water runoff in some places exceeded \(1~\mbox{km}\) column. (2) There is no single Early Mars climate problem: the traces of ≥2 river-forming periods are seen. Relative to rivers that formed earlier in Mars history, rivers that formed later in Mars history are found preferentially at lower elevations, and show a stronger dependence on latitude. (3) The duration of the longest individual river-forming climate was \({>}(10^{2}\mbox{--}10^{3})~\mbox{yr}\), based on paleolake hydrology. (4) Peak runoff production was \({>}0.1~\mbox{mm}/\mbox{hr}\). However, (5) peak runoff production was intermittent, sustained (in a given catchment) for only <10% of the duration of river-forming climates. (6) The cumulative number of wet years during the valley-network-forming period was \({>}10^{5}~\mbox{yr}\). (7) Post-Noachian light-toned, layered sedimentary rocks took \({>}10^{7}~\mbox{yr}\) to accumulate. However, (8) an “average” place on Mars saw water for \({<}10^{7}~\mbox{yr}\) after the Noachian, suggesting that the river-forming climates were interspersed with long globally-dry intervals. (9) Geologic proxies for Early Mars atmospheric pressure indicate pressure was not less than 0.012 bar but not much more than 1 bar. A truth table of these geologic constraints versus currently published climate models shows that the late persistence of river-forming climates, combined with the long duration of individual lake-forming climates, is a challenge for most models.


Atmospheric evolution Mars Planetary habitability Paleoclimate 



The results listed above sum up the work of thousands of engineers and scientists. Many great papers are omitted from this review for concision. I am grateful to Chris McKay and Caleb Fassett for formal reviews, and to Tim Goudge, Paul Niles, and Brian Hynek for informal read-throughs. I thank David P. Mayer for generating the CTX DTM used in Fig. 2, and Jack Mustard for sharing a preprint. This paper was stimulated by the Fourth International Conference on Early Mars, and I thank the organizers and participants for that meeting. This work was funded in part by the U.S. taxpayer, via NASA grant NNX16AJ38G.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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