Where Science and Faith Converge

More Evidence Mars Experienced a Watery Past

By Jeff Zweerink - March 1, 2010

What’s the best way to argue that Earth displays numerous just-right features for human habitability? One way is to study Mars.

An already impressive body of evidence demonstrates the fine-tuning Earth exhibits to support life. Yet continued investigation of our neighboring planets––including water on Mars––adds to the evidence.

From a biblical creation perspective, most rocky planets orbiting sun-like stars would begin covered in water. Observations affirm that Mars sported large bodies of liquid water during its first billion years. Yet a number of discoveries over the past year demonstrate the contrast between Earth’s stable, long-standing water cycle and Mars’ fleeting, sporadic watery conditions.

Using images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) detector on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), three scientists in Colorado made the first definitive detection of strandlines from a lake existing on Mars around 3.5 billion years ago.1 Using calculations based on the extent of the strandlines and the surrounding topography, these researchers determined that the lake covered nearly 80 square miles and reached depths of 1,500 feet.

Another team of scientists from Europe found evidence indicating lakes formed from ice-rich permafrost that melted about 3 billion years ago.2 Images from the Context Camera on the MRO show channels connecting depressions in Mars’ surface, suggesting that water drained from depressions at higher elevations to depressions at lower elevations. In order to melt the permafrost, Mars would have had to experience an atmospheric warming caused by transient events like increased volcanic activity, meteoritic impacts, or an orbit shift.

Evidence of ice-rich permafrost on Mars today comes from analysis of the edges of landscape features on the planet. If sufficient water-ice is mixed with the sand and dust of the Martian surface, the mixture will creep under gravitational forces. Analysis of the ice-to-sand ratio that permits creep3 and of the temporal appearance of craters formed from meteoritic impacts4 both affirm the existence of substantial water-ice underneath the planet’s surface.

All these discoveries add to the body of evidence showing a watery early history for Mars. Yet the planet’s early liquid state transitioned to a dry, desolate environment that remains hostile to life even today. Earth’s transformation from an uninhabited water-world to a land-rich, watery planet teeming with life stands in stark contrast and argues for the work of a divine Designer.

  1. Gaetano Di Achille, Brian M. Hynek, and Mindi L. Searls, “Positive Identification of Lake Strandlines in Shalbatana Vallis, Mars,” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (July 16, 2009): L14201. https://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL038854.shtml
  2. Nicholas Warner et al., “Hesperian Equatorial Thermokarst Lakes in Ares Vallis as Evidence for Transient Warm Conditions on Mars,” Geology 38 (January 2009): 71–74. https://geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/full/38/1/71?ijkey=zZvIK3RIehbfg&keytype=ref&siteid=gsgeology
  3. William B. Durham et al., “Mobility of Icy Sand Packs, with Application to Martian Permafrost,” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (December 8, 2009): L23203. https://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL040392.shtml
  4. Shane Byrne et al., “Distribution of Mid-Latitude Ground Ice on Mars from New Impact Craters,” Science 325 (September 25, 2009): 1674–76. https://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;325/5948/1674?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&volume=325&firstpage=1674&resourcetype=HWCIT

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