An Assemblage of Lava Flow Features on Mercury

Byrne, Paul K.; Klimczak, Christian; Williams, David A.; Hurwitz, Debra M.; Solomon, Sean C.; Head, James W.; Preusker, Frank; Oberst, Jurgen

In contrast to other terrestrial planets, Mercury does not possess a great variety of volcanic features, its history of volcanism instead largely manifest by expansive smooth plains. However, a set of landforms at high northern latitudes on Mercury resembles surface flow features documented on Earth, the Moon, Mars, and Venus. The most striking of such landforms are broad channels that host streamlined islands and that cut through the surrounding intercrater plains. Together with narrower, more sinuous channels, coalesced depressions, evidence for local flooding of intercrater plains by lavas, and a first-order analysis of lava flow rates, the broad channels define an assemblage of flow features formed by the overland flow of, and erosion by, voluminous, high-temperature, low-viscosity lavas. This interpretation is consistent with compositional data suggesting that substantial portions of Mercury's crust are composed of magnesian, iron-poor lithologies. Moreover, the proximity of this partially flooded assemblage to extensive volcanic plains raises the possibility that the formation of these flow features may preface total inundation of an area by lavas emplaced in a flood mode and that they escaped complete burial only due to a waning magmatic supply. Finally, that these broad channels on Mercury are volcanic in nature yet resemble outflow channels on Mars, which are commonly attributed to catastrophic water floods, implies that aqueous activity is not a prerequisite for the formation of such distinctive landforms on any planetary body.

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Also Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Seismology, Geology, and Tectonophysics
Published Here
September 5, 2013