Errors in Martian paleodischarges skew interpretations of hydrologic history: Case study of the Aeolis Dorsa, Mars, with insights from the Quinn River, NV

Robert E. Jacobsen, Devon M. Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Changes in Martian fluvial geomorphology with time-stratigraphic age, including decreases in paleochannel widths, suggest waning paleodischarges through time. Where fluvial landforms do not preserve paleochannel widths (e.g., meander deposits), other landform dimensions (i.e., radius of curvature) may be used to estimate paleodischarges. In the Aeolis Dorsa region, topographically inverted and stacked fluvial deposits – wide meander point bars overlain by thin channel fills – preserve ostensible evidence of decreasing paleodischarges through time. However, a robust paleohydraulic analysis of these distinct deposits requires knowledge of the accuracy of a terrestrial-based empirical relationship that estimates channel width from point-bar radius of curvature. We assess the accuracy of this radius-width relationship by applying it to a well-studied terrestrial analog, the Quinn River, Nevada. We find that radii of curvature from the Quinn River exceed the values predicted from the empirical relationship. These anomalously high radii are associated with greater resistance in the channel cut banks, indicating that bank strength is a confounding factor in the radius-width relationship. Some deposits in the Aeolis Dorsa include irregular meander morphologies, suggesting variably resistant channel banks and overestimates of both paleochannel widths and paleodischarges. Furthermore, the morphometry of the overlying thin channel fills suggests their widths have been eroded, such that their paleodischarges are underestimates. These overestimates and underestimates, when considered together, suggest little change in paleodischarge during the stratigraphic transition from meander deposits to channel fills. This work demonstrates the importance of terrestrial analog studies for revealing confounding factors in Martian fluvial systems and cautions against simplistic interpretations of Martian fluvial history. The discovered inaccuracies of paleodischarge estimates expose sources of uncertainty in the extant paleodischarge data that bias inferences toward waning hydrologic activity through time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-417
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Earth
  • Geological processes
  • Mars
  • Surface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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