Streamlined Islands in Ares Valles
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Streamlined Islands in Ares Valles

October 8, 2009
Although liquid water is not stable on the surface of Mars today, there is substantial geologic evidence that large quantities of water once flowed across the surface in the distant past. Streamlined islands, shown here, are one piece of evidence for this ancient water. The tremendous force of moving water, possibly from a catastrophic flood, carved these teardrop-shaped islands within a much larger channel called Ares Valles. The orientation of the islands can be used as an indicator of the direction the water flowed. The islands have a blunt end that is usually associated with an obstacle, commonly an impact crater. The crater is resistant to erosion and creates a geologic barrier around which the water must flow. As the water flows past the obstacle, its erosive power is directed outward, leaving the area in the lee of the obstacle relatively uneroded. However, some scientists have also argued that the area in the lee of the obstacle might be a depositional zone, where material is dropped out of the water as it briefly slows. The ridges observed on the high-standing terrain in the leeward parts of the islands may be benches carved into the rock that mark the height of the water at various times during the flood, or they might be indicative of layering in the leeward rock. As the water makes its way downstream, the interference of the water flow by the obstacle is reduced, and the water that was diverted around the obstacle rejoins itself at the narrow end of the island. Therefore, the direction of the water flow is parallel to the orientation of the island, and the narrow end of the island points downstream. In addition to the streamlined islands, the channel floor exhibits fluting that is also suggestive of flowing water. The flutes (also known as longitudinal grooves) are also parallel to the direction of flow, indicating that the water flow was turbulent and probably quite fast, which is consistent with the hypothesized catastrophic floods that came through Ares Valles.

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