Paleolakes on Mars

J Paleolimnol. 1995;13:267-83. doi: 10.1007/BF00682769.


Observational evidence such as outflow channels and valley networks suggest that in the past there was flowing water on Mars. The images of fluvial features on Mars logically suggest that there must exist downstream locations in which the water pooled and the sediment load deposited (i.e. lakes). Sediments and morphological features associated with the martian paleolakes are believed to occur in Valles Marineris, and several large basins including Amazonis, Chryse and Elysium planitia. As Mars became progressively colder over geological time, any lakes on its surface would have become seasonally, and eventually perennially ice-covered. We know from polar lakes on Earth that ice-covered lakes can persist even when the mean annual temperature falls below freezing. Thus, the most recent lacustrine sediments on Mars were probably deposited in ice-covered lakes. While life outside of the Earth's atmosphere has yet to be observed, there is a general consensus among exobiologists that the search for extraterrestrial life should be based upon liquid water. The inference that there was liquid water on Mars during an earlier epoch is the primary motivation for considering the possibility of life during this time. It would be of enormous interest from both an exobiological and paleolimnological perspective to discover lakes or the evidence of former lakes on another planet such as Mars. Limnology would then become an interplanetary science.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Climate*
  • Evolution, Planetary
  • Exobiology
  • Extraterrestrial Environment
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis*
  • Ice
  • Mars*
  • Paleontology*
  • Water / analysis*


  • Ice
  • Water
  • Carbon Dioxide