Scientists at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) in Arizona have begun a new project to map the near-surface ice deposits in the low elevation regions of the Martian northern hemisphere.
Two teams led by Putzig and Morgan were contracted by NASA to pursue separate mapping efforts of subsurface ice deposits in Arcadia Planitia. After their mid-term reports showed significant synergy, the teams were combined in a joint project called “Subsurface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) on Mars,” which extends the coverage of the mapping project from an experimental swath over Arcadia Planitia to all other low elevation regions across the Martian Northern Hemisphere. “Water ice will be a critical resource for human explorers on Mars, not only for life support but also for generating fuel to power equipment on the ground and rockets for the return journey to Earth,” said Putzig, a Senior Scientist at PSI. “Maps that identify the nature and availability of potential water resources will help determine where humanity will establish its first outposts on Mars.”
The SWIM team is producing new maps of the likelihood of subsurface ice deposits over these regions by combining radar, thermal, neutron, altimetry, and image data from several Mars-orbiting spacecraft. The team is also employing newly developed techniques that include using radar returns to infer the presence of ice within the top 5 meters of the crust and applying advanced radar processing to improve resolution at depth and to estimate the purity of ice in the subsurface.
Unlike most planetary research, this project is not aimed specifically at understanding the geology of Mars. Instead, it appears focused on the needs of future human exploration and settlement, finding easily accessible water sources in the northern hemisphere of Mars. The spots they identify will likely be the first Martian real estate of significant value.