Research Themes

Climate Evolution

Ice Sheet Dynamics


Process Geomorphology

"Virtual" Fieldwork





Mars-Antarctic Analogs

The hyperarid, cold-polar desert of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica has long been known to be one of the most Mars-like environments and landscapes on Earth.  Indeed it is commonly viewed as a relatively fixed cold polar desert with little internal variation.  However, our recent analyses have shown that there are three fundamentally different microclimate zones within this general 'stereotypical' cold polar desert, and that these zones may hold the keys to climate change and landscape evolution on Mars. We are conducting an analysis of the details of the microenvironments and microclimate zones in the Dry Valleys, how these are manifested in geomorphic features, and how these observations can be used to further understand atmospheric, climatological and geological processes on Mars.

Specifically, we are documenting the range of surficial geomorphic processes in microclimate zones in the Dry Valleys and showing how these can be used to improve the understanding of environments on Mars.  These analyses will help in the interpretation of a range of geomorphic features on Mars (e.g., different types of polygons, rock glaciers, solifluction and gelifluction lobes, sublimation tills, duricrusts, etc.) and more specifically will help to link them to current and ancient climate zones. 

We are assessing how many of the Dry Valleys features can shed light on late Amazonian climate change on Mars. For debris-covered glaciers, for example, we have undertaken field studies to document the surface evolution of the Mullins valley glacier.  We have studied the development and evolution of polygons on its surface and we have measured the ages of the rocks on its surface to assess its very slow rate of movement.  We have also undertaken preliminary seismic and GPR assessments of its 3-D structure and found hints that below the surface till layer it is composed of nearly pure ice down to bedrock (~ 150 m in one place).  Along with our collaborator James Head, Brown University, we have begun to address how these characteristics can be applied to the interpretation of viscous flow features and lobate debris aprons on Mars. One of the major questions in both Earth and Mars glacial geology is whether debris covers on ice deposits can protect underlying ice from vapor diffusive loss over extended periods off time. We were able to begin to address this question in the ADV, instrumenting the debris layer overlying buried ice in Mullins Valley, showing how it can be preserved for millions of years and pointing out how this might be applicable to Mars conditions. Data loggers were also deployed throughout the three microclimate zones in the Dry Valleys to understand better the nature and spatial distribution of the active layer (defined as a near-surface layer that undergoes freeze-thaw cycles due to surface/soil temperatures oscillating about the freezing point of water). A wet active layer undergoes significant yearly geomorphic change through cryoturbation, but a “dry” active layer may occur in soils without free water or ice. We explored the application of these concepts and data to Mars, showing that a wet active layer is currently absent on Mars, but may have been present millions of years ago.


NSF Award Abstract (1)

NSF Award Abstract (2)


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Selected Publications

(* Student Advisee)

Fastook, J.L., Head, J.W., Marchant, D.R., Forget, F., and Madeleine, J-B., 2012. Early Mars climate near the Noachian-Hesperian boundary: independent evidence for cold conditions from basal melting of the south polar ice sheet (Dorsa Argentea Formation) and implications for valley network formation. Icarus 219, 25-40. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2012.02.013

Fastook, J.L., Head, J.W., Forget, F. Madeleine, J-B, and Marchant, D.R., 2011. Evidence for Amazonian Northern Mid-Latitude Regional Glacial Landsystems on Mars: Glacial Flow Models Using GCM-Driven Climate Results and Comparisons to Geological Observations. Icarus, Volume 216, Issue 1, 23-39. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2011.07.018

Head, J.W., Kreslavsky, M.A., and Marchant, D.R., 2011. Pitted rock surfaces on Mars: a mechanism of formation by transient melting of snow and ice. Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 116. doi:10.1029/2011JE003826

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2011. Gullies, polygons, and mantles in Martian permafrost environments: cold desert landform and sedimentary processes during recent Martian geological history. Geological Society of London, special publication, 354, 167-182. DOI: 10.1144/SP354.10

Morgan, G.A., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R., 2011.  Preservation of Late Amazonian Mars Ice and Water-related Deposits in a Unique Crater Environment in Noachis Terra: Age Relationships between Lobate Debris Tongues and Gullies. Icarus 211, 347-365. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2010.08.004

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R., 2010.  Concentric crater fill in the northern mid-latitudes of Mars: formation processes and relationships to similar landforms of glacial origin Icarus 206, 229-252. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.09.005

Fassett, C.I., Dickson, J.L., Head, J.W., Levy, J.S., and Marchant, D.R. 2010. Supraglacial and proglacial valleys on Amazonian Mars. Icarus 208, 86-100. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2010.02.021

Head J.W., Marchant, D.R., Dickson, J.L., Kress, A.M., and Baker, D.M. 2010. Northern mid-latitude glaciation in the late Amazonian Period of Mars: Criteria for the recognition of debris-covered glacier and valley glacier landsystem deposits. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 294, 306-320. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2009.06.041.

Dickson, J.L., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2010. Kilometer-thick ice accumulation and glaciation in the Northern mid-latitudes of Mars: Evidence for crater-filling events in the late Amazonian at the Phlegra Montes. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 294, 332-342. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2009.08.031.

Baker, D.M.H., Head, J.M., and Marchant, D.R. 2010. Flow patterns of lobate debris aprons and lineated valley fill North of Ismeniae Fossae, Mars: Evidence for extensive mid-latitude glaciation in the late Amazonian. Icarus 207, 186-209. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.11.017.

Levy, J.S., Marchant, D.R., and Head, J.W. 2010. Thermal contraction crack polygons on Mars: A synthesis from HiRISE, Phoenix and terrestrial analog studies. Icarus 206, 229-252. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.09.005.

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2009. Concentric Crater Fill in Utopia Planitia: History and Interaction Between Glacial “Brain Terrain” and Periglacial Mantle Processes. Icarus 202, 462-476.doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.02.018.

Levy, J.S.,  Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2009. Cold and Dry Processes in the Martian Arctic: Geomorphic Observations at the Phoenix Landing Site and Comparisons with Terrestrial Cold Desert Landforms. Geophysical Research Letters36, L21203. doi:10.1029/2009GL040634.

Morgan, G.A., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2009. Lineated Valley Fill (LVF) and Lobate Debris Aprons (LDA) of the Northern Dichotomy Boundary, Mars: Constraints on the Extent, Age and Episodicity of Amazonian Glacial Events. Icarus 202, 22-38. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2009.02.017.

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2009. Thermal Contraction Crack Polygons on Mars: Classification, Distribution, and Climate Implications from HiRISE Observations. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, E01007, doi:10.1029/2008JE003273.

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., Marchant, D.R., Dickson, J.L., and Morgan, G.A. 2009. Geologically recent gully-polygon relationships on Mars: Insights from the Antarctic Dry Valleys on the roles of permafrost, microclimates, and water sources for surface flow. Icarus 201, 113-126. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2008.12.043

Head, J.W., Marchant, D.R., and Kreslavsky, M.A. 2008. Formation of gullies on Mars: link to recent climate history and insolation microenvironments implicate surface water flow origin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi 10.1073 pnas.0803760105.

Dickson, J.L., Head, J.W., and Marchant, D.R. 2008. Late Amazonian Glaciation at the Dichotomy Boundary on Mars: Evidence for Glacial Thickness Maxima and Multiple Glacial Phases. Geology 36, 411-414.

Levy, J.S., Head, J.W., Marchant, D.R., and *Kowalewski, D.E. 2008. Identification of sublimation-type thermal contraction crack polygons at the proposed NASA landing site: implications for substrate properties and climate-driven morphological evolution. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L04202, doi:10.1029/2007GL032813.

Krevslavsky, M.A., Head, J.W. III, and Marchant, D.R., 2008. Periods of active permafrost layer formation during the geological history of Mars: implications for circum-polar and mid-latitude surface processes.  Planetary and Space Sciences 56, 289-302doi:10.1016/j.pss.2006.02.010.

Marchant, D.R. and Head, J.W. 2007.  Antarctic Dry Valleys: Microclimate zonation, variable geomorphic processes, and implications for assessing climate change on Mars. Icarus 192(1), 187-222, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.06.018



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