Massive Tsunamis Swamped Mars Billion Years Ago, Study Reveals

First Posted: May 20, 2016 05:39 AM EDT

Scientists have found evidence that tsunamis once swept across the surface of Mars northern plains, deluging an area as big as Nevada, California and Oregon. The researchers believe that two meteorites hit the Red Planet that triggered a pair of super tsunamis.

Science Daily reports that the findings were printed in Scientific Reports, a publication of the journal Nature on May 19, 2016. It was led by Alexis Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute, Alberto Fairen, Cornell visiting scientist in astronomy and principal investigator at the Center for Astrobiology, Madrid and 12 other scholars.

The researchers said that the massive tsunamis forever disfigured the Martian landscape. This resulted in an evidence of cold, salty oceans that are conducive in sustaining life. Fairen explained that about 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered the first tsunami wave. This wave was comprised of liquid water. He further said that it created widespread backwash channels to transport the water back to the ocean.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez said that a witness on Mars would have seen a huge, red wall of water moving very, very fast. He added that it would be pretty surreal, according to USA Today.

The second tsunami was triggered by another impact of the huge meteorite, according to the scientists. Fairen further explained that the ocean level receded from its original shoreline to form a secondary shoreline because the climate had become significantly colder.

This second tsunami molded rounded lobe of ice. Fairen said that these lobes froze the lands as they reached their maximum extent and the ice never went back to the ocean. This implies that the ocean was at least partially frozen at that time.

He added that their study gives solid evidence for the existence of very cold oceans on early Mars. These icy lobes preserved their well-defined boundaries and their flow-related shapes.

Rodriguez said that they have identified some areas swamped by the tsunamis where the ponded water appears to have positioned lacustrine sediments, including evaporates. He concluded that as a follow-up investigation they plan to characterize these terrains and evaluate their potential for future robotic or human in-situ exploration.

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