Ancient Streamlined Islands of the Palos Outflow Channel

This image shows the northern terminus of an outflow channel located in the volcanic terrains of Amenthes Planum.

The channel sources from the Palos impact crater to the south, where water flowed into the crater from Tinto Vallis and eventually formed a paleo lake. As rising lake levels breached through the crater’s rim and inundated the plains to the north, the resulting high velocity, large discharge floods plucked out and eroded the volcanic plains scouring out the “Palos Outflow Channel” and the streamlined mesa-islands on its floor.

These streamlined forms are the eroded remnants of plains material sculpted by catastrophic floods and are not sediment deposits emplaced by lower magnitude stream flows. Both the fluvial channel floor and the volcanic island surfaces are densely cratered by impacts suggesting that both the surfaces and the flood events are ancient.

The morphology (shape) of the channel system and its islands have been preserved through the eons, but water has long been absent from this drainage system. Since then, winds have transported light-toned sediments across this terrain forming extensive dune fields within the channel system, on the floors of impact craters, and in other protected locations in the Palos Outflow Channel region.

A closer look shows chevron, or fish-bone shaped, light-toned dunes located near the top of the image where numerous smaller channels have cut through the landscape. These dunes likely started out as Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TAR) that form perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction where the wind-blown sediment supply is scarce. This intriguing morphology likely reflects changes in the prevailing wind environment over time.

Written by: Henrik Hargitai and Ginny Gulick (audio: Tre Gibbs)   (24 August 2016)

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Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona