Huge underground ice deposit on Mars is bigger than New Mexico

Posted: November 23, 2016 by oldbrew in exploration

Ancient Mars may have looked like this - artist's impression [credit: Ittiz / Wikipedia]

Ancient Mars may have looked like this – artist’s impression [credit: Ittiz / Wikipedia]

Finding the right conditions to melt Martian ice could be tricky. reporting.

A giant deposit of buried ice on Mars contains about as much water as Lake Superior does here on Earth, a new study reports. The ice layer, which spans a greater area than the state of New Mexico, lies in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes and is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) of soil.

It therefore represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts exploring the Red Planet, study team members said.

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt, of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement.

The researchers, led by Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, analyzed observations of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region made by the ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They focused on this area because Utopia Planitia features “scalloped depressions” similar to landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that lie atop buried ice.

Data gathered by SHARAD during 600 MRO passes over Utopia Planitia revealed the deposit between 39 and 49 degrees north latitude. The layer ranges in thickness from 260 feet to 560 feet (80 to 170 m) and is made up of 50 to 85 percent water ice, researchers said. (The remainder is dirt and rock.)

That puts the deposit’s water volume roughly on a par with that of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, which holds 2,900 cubic miles (12,090 cubic kilometers) of the wet stuff.

SHARAD is capable of distinguishing between layers of liquid and frozen water, and the instrument’s data indicate that all of the Utopia Planitia water is ice at the moment. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to find evidence of Mars life, because life here on Earth is intimately tied to liquid water.

But there may have been some melting in the past, during times when Mars’ poles were tilted at a different angle, researchers said. The planet has a 25-degree lean at the moment, but this axial tilt varies to about 50 degrees over a 120,000-year cycle.

Indeed, the ice deposit probably formed during a high-tilt era, when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes rather than at the poles as it does now, Stuurman said. So further study of the Utopia Planitia ice deposit could also shed light on how the Martian climate has changed over the ages.

Full report: Huge Underground Ice Deposit on Mars Is Bigger Than New Mexico |

  1. rishrac says:

    Should we start a ” Save Mars ” group now ? A pure and untouched planet is already being desecrated by roving machines as we speak ! The horror ! Think of the trash and pollution we will create. Worse, schemes to geo engineer the planet will be in the works that will forever change Mars. We can’t allow this to happen. What if they discover oil, natural gas, or even coal ? The evil co2 molecule knows no bounds as it marches across the solar system, eventually consuming the entire universe. Stop the madness now ! ( sarc)

  2. pg sharrow says:

    It is always nice when educated “scientists” recognise the obvious. There is a lot of water on Mars, underground and in permafrost covered with dust. The only thing that Mars lacks is a decent amount of atmosphere. As for life on Mars, That is a sure thing…pg

  3. TA says:

    An encouraging discovery that will help with human activity on Mars.

    From my point of view, it is pretty amazing what people have been able to accomplish in the sciences over the past few decades. There are a lot of very smart people in this world.

    When I was younger I never imagined I would have so much information about the universe available to me. A lot of questions I thought I would never see answered, have now been answered. And it just keeps on coming. I still recall looking at very grainy pictures of the outer planets, and stars and galaxies, and trying to make heads of tails of them, and wondering if there were planets around other stars. Don’t have to do that anymore.

    What a blessing it is for me, living in this age of discovery, coming from a time when I can really appreciate the advances that have been made. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who made those advances possible.

  4. Steven Fraser says:

    So, with a little bit of nuclear power, and using hydrolysis and other techniques, O2 and Hydrogen can be separated, and a self-sustaining viticulture built. Sound fun!

  5. rishrac says:

    @ Stephen, it isn’t just Mars, it’s the entire universe. It is not enough to just live, but thrive.