A new study claims that oceans on Mars may have formed 4 billion years ago and not 300 million years as estimated earlier. There is widespread evidence that the now cold and dry planet, Mars, was once covered by oceans.
According to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the formation of Tharsis, Mars’ volcanic system, may be responsible for the conditions that led to the formation of the oceans on the red planet 4 billion years ago.
“Volcanoes may be important in creating the conditions for Mars to be wet,” said Michael Manga, senior author of the paper. Manga is a professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley.
The new ocean formation model proposes that oceans formed at the same time or maybe before Tharsis came into existence 3.7 billion years ago. It is believed that the solar system’s largest volcanic system played a key role in keeping the planet warm enough to actually hold liquid water.
Since Tharsis was smaller at the time, a large portion of the planet remained unaffected by it. It is presumed that the plains that cover Mars’ northern hemisphere served as the ancient ocean’s seabed. As the northern part of the planet was untouched by the Tharsis system, it is presumed that the ocean present at the time would have been shallower.
Manga explained that Tharsis likely spewed gases into the atmosphere that created a global warming or greenhouse effect and this may have enabled liquid water to exist on the Martian surface. The research team believes that the eruptions would have also resulted in the creation of channels below the surface through which underground water could reach the surface and fill up Mars’ northern plains.
The research paper titled “Timing of oceans on Mars from shoreline deformation” has been published online in the journal Nature.