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UCD Earth Institute scientist Dr Colman Gallagher has identified landforms on Mars, which strengthen the case for the presence of water on the red planet.

? Publication Date: 01 October, 2015


In a week when NASA scientists claimed new evidence of water on Mars through identification of a salty residue of evaporated water, UCD Earth Institute investigator Dr Colman Gallagher (School of Geography) added another piece of evidence to the mix. With Open University colleague Dr Matthew Balme, Colman has identified a geological form on Mars in the Phlegra Montes region that can best be described as an esker – something familiar in the Irish terrestrial landscape, but the first esker found on Mars still physically associated with its parent glacier.

The findings, published recently in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, strengthen the case for water being present on Mars in a glacial melting and wet-based regime. Colman extrapolates the glacier melting on account of the presence of chlorine salts in the planet’s surface – much as ice sprinkled on a frozen driveway assists melting in our own winter months. The resulting esker (an Irish word) is the lasting evidence of this process and further indicates that the melting of the glacier has more to do with geothermal forces than climate warming. This is the first direct evidence of an extant wet-based glacier on Mars.

While those anxious to prove the existence of life on Mars don’t necessarily have their argument definitively advanced by this discovery, Colman says that it certainly makes it ‘more reasonable to consider it as a habitat’.