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Hydrological processes on late Mars: water under the telescope and under the microscope

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WET MARS (Hydrological processes on late Mars: water under the telescope and under the microscope)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2020-05-31

The aim of this project is to reconstruct paleo-hydrological conditions on Mars and to recreate the hydrogeological cycle that created the complex channel systems found on Mars’ surface. To determine the lithological and fluid characteristics and their possible related deposits, water source triggering mechanisms, and if their origin is by impact or spin axis / obliquity changes.

Such a study is vital, for it addresses key questions about past Martian habitability and potential landing site of future robotic/human missions and climate. The interdisciplinary aspects of this study, such as close integration of surface geology from satellite imagery, analog modelling, and numerical modelling studies, will provide significant new knowledge of Mars environment. Understanding water on Mars is vital to assess the planet’s potential for the emergence of life and for providing usable resources for future human exploration, which is planned for 2030s. Space exploration is a sector of strategic political importance for the EU and a hallmark of international cooperation. The Commission supports several research activities related to space exploration through Horizon 2020.

This project focus on characterization, modelling and analysis of several Martian channels systems, first detected on Mars in NASA CTX and HiRISE images. This project investigates ‘under the telescope’ of imagery and model ‘under the microscope’ the triggering mechanism of water source released, the environmental conditions, the lithology, hydrology and the possible related deposits. The overall objective of this project is to resolve outstanding questions about triggers, mechanisms and resulting geology of fluid water events on Mars, which may change our views on astrobiological potential and exploration. The main objectives are to identify fluid dynamics/processes and related deposits of Mars channel systems in the northern and southern hemispheres and to determine the trigger mechanism, to model Martian channel systems dynamic/processes depending on physical parameters and fluid dynamics such as lithology, clastic sediments (gravel, sand, silt), fluvial flows.
The researcher identified and provided geological analysis of Martian channel systems and constrained environmental, triggering, lithological and fluid parameters. For the identification of fluvial features, numerous images and high-resolution Digital Terrain Model (DTM) have been used. The study of channel systems has been based on a study of the available NASA CTX and HiRISE images of Martian surface. Analysis of these data has been made in cooperation with French colleagues during short stays (SS) at the LPG/University of Nantes. The researcher also performed fluvial numerical modelling of martian rivers and published a paper in Astrobiology journal as first author and co-authored another paper in same journal and on the same topic, this study led to study comparative physical sedimentology and fluid dynamics between Earth and Mars. The researcher benefited from the Kleinhans' team at the UU that has long experience in simulating various hydrological and fluvial environments using 1D and 2D numerical modelling.

The researcher also benefited from the knowledge transfer from the Host to the Fellow. Professor Kleinhans and member of his team allowed the researcher to increase his geological field skills, the researcher organized and leaded also a two field campaigns on fluvio-tidal and fluvio-marine deposits and participated in two other field campaigns that investigated the interactions between life and sediments. During these two years of fellowship the researcher attended the “River morphodynamics course” in February 2019. Further the researcher performed some experiments in the Earth Lab Simulator (such as ice melting within the metronome facility), which were very useful for future plans as well as understanding how to assess published experiments. The researcher also attended several research meetings in the lab to talk about ongoing experiments and model studies for terrestrial meetings. Other than classic conferences, he also attended the ESA ExoMars Cassis Team meeting in Padua in 2018 and in Bern in June. He also attended a webinar on Teaching in English on December 4th, 2019, where he learned how to be a more effective lecturer and competent speaker of English in the international classroom. Further he also attended the ERC Starting and Consolidator grant training Horizon 2020 on November 27, 2018. Finally, he participated to the ‘Writing Successful Grant Proposals’ course offered by the Research Funding Academy in 2019. The course was managed by the course expert, Karen Galindo, who has many years of experience in writing grant applications and has helped numerous researchers submit successful applications and optimise their grants. In this course the researcher learned what makes a grant proposal more likely to succeed and how he can apply this insight to his own proposals. Taking into account the transfer of knowledge activities, the record of publications, the milestone and the deliverable produced, the overall objectives of the project were achieved.
The main progress beyond the state of the art is the discovery of the first well documented large outcrop of siliciclastic sediments on Mars that has been published in Nature Communications. Further, the project allowed also to estimate the minimum lifespan of the Jezero delta, which is the landing site of the NASA Perseverance rover 2020. The project also allowed initiating collaborations with UK academic and research institutions and Spanish research center as well.
Architectural analysis of Martian channel forms at the Izola outcrop.