Mars’ Massive Mantle Plume Shows It’s Livelier Than We Thought

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As seen from orbit, Mars is being pushed upward by a massive mantle plume, which is also responsible for the planet’s intense volcanic and seismic occurrences. Earth’s interior is as dynamic as its surface because of the movement of tectonic plates. Many people assumed that nothing significant had happened on Mars in the last three billion years because of the lack of these kinds of processes.

An active mantle plume, discovered by researchers at the University of Arizona, is responsible for the planet’s upward-swelling surface, which in turn triggers earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, calling into question the accepted theory of Martian geodynamic evolution. The discovery, which appears in the current issue of Nature Astronomy, indicates that the planet’s placid exterior may conceal a more turbulent interior than was previously believed.

Large masses of hot, buoyant rock rise from a planet’s interior, through its mantle, and into the planet’s crust below, triggering seismic activity, faulting, and eruptions. For instance, the Hawaiian Islands were created when the Pacific plate slid slowly over a mantle plume. Elysium Planitia is a plain in Mars’ northern lowlands close to the equator, but its surprising amount of activity drew the attention of researchers. Elysium Planitia is a region on Mars that has experienced large volcanic eruptions within the last 200 million years, in contrast to other Martian volcanic regions that have not seen significant activity in billions of years.

Cerberus Fossae, a network of young fissures that stretches for over 800 miles across Mars, is the source of the volcanism in Elysium Planitia. The InSight team from NASA recently discovered that almost all marsquakes occur in this one area. There was evidence of recent volcanic and tectonic activity, but its cause was not known. Volcanoes and earthquakes on Earth are typically linked to the upwelling of mantle material or to plate tectonics, the perpetual motion of Earth’s continents rearranging themselves and recycling the crust.

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