Volcanic rilles, streamlined islands, and the origin of outflow channels on Mars

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The widely accepted view that catastrophic flow of liquid water was the dominant process involved in formation of outflow channels on Mars has as part of its foundation the assumption that the flow of lava could not have formed Martian features such as streamlined islands and anastamosing channels. However, lunar and Venusian channels, believed to have formed through volcanic processes in the absence of water, are indeed associated with such features. Additionally, many lunar and Venusian rilles head at topographic depressions, a common characteristic of Martian outflow channels. Lunar rilles typically lack positive relief accumulations of volcanic deposits at their mouths, suggesting that contrary to previous assertions, absence of such accumulations at the mouths of Martian outflow channels is not incompatible with a common mode of formation. Consistent with an igneous origin for outflow channels and certain valley systems on Mars, volcanic processes can produce a wide range of landforms that are similar to those normally associated with the flow of water, including channel terraces and complex channel networks. The simplest interpretation of Martian channels that extend from volcanic source regions onto volcanic plains is as conduits formed by the flow of lava. Channel formation hypotheses requiring major changes in Martian atmospheric properties or repeated catastrophic flow of water from volcanic features appear needlessly exotic alongside the igneous hypothesis for channel formation. In light of these points, future investigations of Martian outflow channels should more actively consider volcanic processes as candidate mechanisms for channel formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E10011 1-14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 25 2004


  • Channel
  • Mars
  • Volcanism


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