Ancient Martian Aeolian Sand Dune Deposits Recorded in the Stratigraphy of Valles Marineris and Implications for Past Climates

Matthew Chojnacki, Lori K. Fenton, Aaron Robert Weintraub, Lauren A. Edgar, Mohini J. Jodhpurkar, Christopher S. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Aeolian sediment transport, deposition, and erosion have been ongoing throughout Mars's history. This record of widespread aeolian processes is preserved in landforms and geologic units that retain important clues about past environmental conditions including wind patterns. In this study we describe landforms within Melas Chasma, Valles Marineris, that occur in distinct groups with linear to crescentic shapes, arranged with a characteristic wavelength; some possess slope profiles analogous to modern sand dunes yet show evidence for lithification. Based on the features' dimensions, asymmetry, and spatial patterns relative to modern equivalents, we interpret these landforms to be two classes of aeolian bedforms: decameter-scale megaripples and sand dunes. The presence of superposed erosional features and depositional units indicates that these landforms were cemented and likely ancient. Melas paleodunes are found atop Hesperian-aged layered deposits, but we estimate them to be younger, likely lithified in the Amazonian period. Although a range of degradation was observed, some paleodunes are >10 m tall and maintain steep lee sides (>25°), an uncommon scenario for terrestrial examples as other geologic processes lead to dune obliteration. The preserved paleobedform geometries are largely consistent with those of modern aeolian indicators, suggesting no major shifts in wind regime or contributing boundary conditions. Finally, we propose that their appearance and context require sequential periods of dune migration, stabilization following catastrophic burial, cementation, differential erosion, exposure, and burial. The presence of wholly preserved duneforms appears to be more common on Mars compared to the Earth and may signal something important about Martian landscape evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JE006510
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Valles Marineris
  • aeolian bedforms
  • paleoclimates
  • sand dunes
  • sedimentary deposits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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