The formation and degradation of planetary surfaces: impact features and explosive volcanic landforms on the Moon and Mars
Impact cratering and volcanism are two fundamental processes that alter the surfaces of the terrestrial planets. Though well studied through laboratory experiments and terrestrial analogs, many questions remain regarding how these processes operate across the Solar System. Little is known about the formation of large impact basins (>300 km in diameter) and the degree to which they modify planetary surfaces. On the Moon, large impact basins dominate the terrain and are relatively well preserved. Because the lunar geologic timescale is largely derived from basin stratigraphic relations, it is crucial that we are able to identify and characterize materials emplaced as a result of the formation of the basins, such as light plains. Using high-resolution images under consistent illumination conditions and topography from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), a new global map of light plains is presented at an unprecedented scale, revealing critical details of lunar stratigraphy and providing insight into the erosive power of large impacts. This work demonstrates that large basins significantly alter the lunar surface out to at least 4 radii from the rim, two times farther than previously thought. Further, the effect of pre-existing topography on the degradation of impact craters is unclear, despite their use in the age dating of surfaces. Crater measurements made over large regions of consistent coverage using LROC images and slopes derived from LROC topography show that pre-existing topography affects crater abundances and absolute model ages for craters up to at least 4 km in diameter.
On Mars, small volcanic edifices can provide valuable insight into the evolution of the crust and interior, but a lack of superposed craters and heavy mantling by dust make them difficult to age date. On Earth, morphometry can be used to determine the ages of cinder cone volcanoes in the absence of dated samples. Comparisons of high-resolution topography from the Context Imager (CTX) and a two-dimensional nonlinear diffusion model show that the forms observed on Mars could have been created through Earth-like processes, and with future work, it may be possible to derive an age estimate for these features in the absence of superposed craters or samples.