(FMNEWS) - Scientists found evidence that a region of northern Mars called Arabia Terra experienced thousands of "super eruptions," the biggest volcanic eruptions known, over a 500-million-year period.
Some volcanoes can produce eruptions so powerful they release oceans of dust and toxic gases into the air, blocking out sunlight and changing a planet’s climate for decades.
By studying the topography and mineral composition of a portion of the Arabia Terra region in northern Mars, scientists recently found evidence for thousands of such eruptions, or “super eruptions,” which are the most violent volcanic explosions known.
Spewing water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide into the air, these explosions tore through the Martian surface over a 500-million-year period about 4 billion years ago. Scientists reported this estimate in a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in July 2021.
“Each one of these eruptions would have had a significant climate impact — maybe the released gas made the atmosphere thicker or blocked the Sun and made the atmosphere colder,” said Patrick Whelley, a geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the Arabia Terra analysis. “Modelers of the Martian climate will have some work to do to try to understand the impact of the volcanoes.”
After blasting the equivalent of 400 million Olympic-size swimming pools of molten rock and gas through the surface and spreading a thick blanket of ash up to thousands of miles from the eruption site, a volcano of this magnitude collapses into a giant hole called a “caldera.” Calderas, which also exist on Earth, can be dozens of miles wide. Seven calderas in Arabia Terra were the first giveaways that the region may once have hosted volcanoes capable of super eruptions.
It’s possible that super-eruptive volcanoes were concentrated in regions on Earth but have been eroded physically and chemically or moved around the globe as continents shifted due to plate tectonics. These types of explosive volcanoes also could exist in regions of Jupiter’s moon Io or could have been clustered on Venus. Whatever the case may be, Richardson hopes Arabia Terra will teach scientists something new about geological processes that help shape planets and moons.