According to a new paper published today, scientists have used the ice layers inside Burroughs Crater on Mars to confirm the theory that the Red Planet has undergone numerous climate cycles during the past four million years, caused by the swings in the planet’s rotational tilt and eccentric orbit. From the press release:
Previously, Martian climate scientists have focused on polar ice caps, which span hundreds of kilometers. But these deposits are old and may have lost ice over time, losing fine details that are necessary to confidently establish connections between the planet’s orientation and motion and its climate.
Sori and his colleagues turned to ice mounds in craters, just tens of kilometers wide but much fresher and potentially less complicated. After scouring much of the southern hemisphere, they pinpointed Burroughs crater, 74 kilometers wide, that has “exceptionally well-preserved” layers visible from NASA HiRISE [Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s high resolution camera] imagery, Sori said.
The researchers analyzed the layers’ thicknesses and shapes and found they had strikingly similar patterns to two important Martian orbital dynamics, the tilt of Mars’ axis and orbital precession, over the last 4 to 5 million years.
The photo above of those layers was taken by Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter on March 13, 2019, cropped and reduced to post here.
This research greatly strengthens the theory that the ice on Mars gets distributed to different latitudes in cycles, depending on the cyclical fluctuations in the planet’s orbit and tilt. However, it does not yet confirm these cycles apply to the glaciers found in craters in lower latitudes. Burroughs Crater is at 72 degrees south latitude, near the southern polar ice cap, well south of the band of glaciers scientists have discovered in the mid-latitudes down to 30 degrees latitude. Nonetheless, this research strongly suggest the same cycles apply in those lower latitudes.