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Alba Patera
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Alba Patera

October 7, 2009
This image, centered near 46.5 N and 119.3 W (240.7 E), is on the northwestern flank of a large, broad shield volcano called Alba Patera. This region of Mars has a number of unique valley features that at first glance look dendritic much in the same pattern that rivers and tributaries form on Earth. A closer look reveals that the valleys are quite discontinuous and must form through a different process than surface runoff of liquid water that is common on Earth. A number of processes might have taken place at some point in the Martian past to form these features. Some of the broad valley features bear some resemblance to karst topo- graphy, where material is removed underground by melting or dissolving in groundwater causing the collapse of the surface above it. The long narrow valleys resemble surfaces where groundwater sapping has occurred. Sapping happens when groundwater reaches the surface and causes headward erosion, forming long valleys with fewer tributaries than is seen with valleys formed by surface water runoff. The volcano itself might have been a source of heat and energy, which played a role in producing surfaces that indicate an active groundwater system.