Mars-like gully formation by perenial discharge of high latitude (81° N) saline springs
Grasby, SE and Proemse, B, Mars-like gully formation by perenial discharge of high latitude (81 N) saline springs, 39th International Association of Hydrogeologists Congress Abstracts, 16-21 September 2012, Niagara Falls (2012) [Conference Extract]
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Regions of extensive permafrost have generally been considered to have inactive hydrogeological systems. However, increasing evidence shows the occurrence of perennial spring systems in High Arctic regions. A newly discovered set of springs on northern Ellesmere Island has significant discharge and heat flow, in a region characterized by an arctic desert environment (average annual temperatures of -19.7 °C and annual precipitation of 75.5 mm), thick permafrost (average 423 m), and low geothermal gradients (average 23 °C/km). The springs appear to be associated with the intersection of a minor N-S trending fault intersecting at right angles to a predominant E-W trending thrust fault, suggesting structural controls on the flow system. Despite its location as one of the northernmost reported spring systems, and in a region of low geothermal gradients, the spring has one of the highest heat flows in North America. Ice filled channels (up to 5 m thick and for over 5 km downstream of the spring outlets) are indicative of perennial discharge from the site. Stable isotope data indicate local meteoric recharge as the source of water, however high salinity of the water implies deep circulation and interaction with buried evaporites of the Otto Fiord Formation. This is further supported by relatively high discharge temperatures.
The spring outlets are located on a south facing scree covered mountain slope. Large gully features are formed that have remarkable similarity to sites of purported active groundwater discharge on Mars. The site thus provides excellent opportunity to study cold region hydrogeologic processes on Earth in addition to understanding potential hydrogeologic processes on other planets.