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Confirmed: Martian glacial features are ice

Lobate glacial flows on Mars
Click for full image.

Scientists using the radar instrument on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have now confirmed that the Martian glacial features that most resemble the glaciers seen on Earth are made of substantial amounts of ice, and were possibly active and growing only a few million years ago.

“Our radar analysis shows that at least one of these features is about 500 meters thick and nearly 100 percent ice, with a debris covering at most ten meters thick,” said Berman, lead author of “Ice-rich landforms of the southern mid-latitudes of Mars: A case study in Nereidum Montes” published online in Icarus at PSI scientists Frank C. Chuang, Isaac B. Smith and David A. Crown are co-authors on the paper.

Global mapping of Viscous Flow Features (VFFs), a general grouping of ice-rich flow features in the southern hemisphere of Mars shows a dense concentration in Nereidum Montes, along the northern rim of Argyre basin. Located within a northwestern subregion of Nereidum Montes is a large number of well-preserved VFFs and ice-rich mantling deposits, the paper says, potentially the largest concentrations of any non-polar region in the southern hemisphere.

…Processed data from the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft were used to search for basal reflections across VFFs within the region. For one in particular, these observations and analysis indicate that it is composed of nearly pure water ice. Model ages obtained from crater counts and their associated size-frequency distributions (SFDs) on both ice-rich mantling deposits and small lobate VFFs suggest that the deposits stabilized several to tens of millions of years ago in the Late Amazonian Epoch, and that small lobate VFFs likely formed due to the mobilization of mantling deposits.

This data here reinforces the impressions from many other places within the 30-60 degree latitude bands on Mars where many such features are found.

Mars might be a desert, but it is a desert like Antarctica, not the Sahara. Any settlement there must use the Earth’s south pole as its guide for construction and design.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • janyuary

    Maybe someday water will be “mined” from Mars for use on earth and other planets.
    Or not!

  • Chris

    We may use the South Pole as a temperature guide and a water everywhere but not a drop to drink… and then there’s the radiation

  • Chris: The Earth’s poles routinely get a much higher radiation dose, because the field lines of the magnetic field direct the solar wind and the sun’s magnetic storms down onto the poles.

    It is not the same as Mars, for sure, but it provides a good marker for testing engineering designs that include dealing with radiation.

  • Chris

    Hi Bob,

    I was Wre of the increased radiation but I was under the impression that Mars much (order of magnitude?) higher.
    I agree that Antarctica design is the best starting point – cold but with frozen water. The radiation however drives you underground – IMHO

  • Chris: See this BtB post from 2013 about the radiation levels detected by Curiosity on Mars. As I wrote then,

    The results suggest that while the radiation on Mars requires some shielding, most of the worst radiation a traveler would be exposed to would occur during the journey in space to and from Earth. The graph below illustrates this.

    Radition levels to and on Mars

  • Chris

    Hi Bob
    I looked at the article- the graph is the main gist. . Does it determine why there is whatI would expect is so little radiation on the surface vs in orbit?
    I don’t think Mars has the type of magnetic shielding that we do (correct?) nor any atmosphere like ours. What accounts for the much lower radiation levels?

    With these levels, the Falcon Heavy payload – the Musk Tesla – would last much longer than in it’s jaunt through space

    Thanks Bob


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