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No. 76: Jul-Aug 1991

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Catastrophic flooding on mars?

Could that parched red planet seen in the Viking pictures have been the site of a colossal flood -- a wall of water greater than anything ever seen on earth?

Terrestrial geologists point to the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington State as evidence of what the sudden release of a huge lake's water can do to the landscape. Everywhere in this part of Washington are deeply incised grooves and dry cataracts separated by water-streamlined bars. Exactly this sort of harsh, scoured topography can be found at Kasei Valles, Mars.

"The upper part of the channel system is typically less than 1 km deep and descends from Echus Chasma about 1 km over a distance of 1000 km; it then splits into north and south channels. On the basis of a stereomodel of Viking images, we have measured the geometry of a steep, constricted reach of the north channel that drops 900 m in only 100 km. A late-stage flood is hypothesized to have scoured the channel. If we assume that channel striations indicate water levels, then the flood had a minimum cross-sectional area of 3.12 x 107 m2 (the putative flood had a width of 83 km, an average depth of 373 m, and a maximum depth of 1280 m). These channel measurements suggest that flood vel ocities ranged from 32 to 75 m. s-1 and that discharge was greater than 1 km3. s-1 , values larger than those calculated for any other flood event on Mars or Earth."

That maximum flood velocity is equal to 170 miles/hour! The erosion features included a -mile-deep pothole. Some temporary lake was likely the source of the flood, although no one sees any surface water on Mars today. (Robinson, Mark S., and Tanaka, Kenneth L.; "Magnitude of a Catastrophic Flood Event at Kasei Valles, Mars," Geology, 18:902, 1990.)

Reference. Our catalog: The Moon and the Planets contains a section on the Martian "channels" (AEM1). For ordering information, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #76, JUL-AUG 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987