Svalbard Permafrost Landforms as Analogues for Mars (SPLAM) (SPLAM)

We are studying glacial and periglacial landforms on Svalbard as analogues for similar landforms on Mars.

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Project type

  • field work
  • long-term monitoring


  • geology

Project Keywords

  • solid earth / geomorphic landforms/processes / glacial landforms

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Svalbard is located in the continuous zone of permafrost. Because the landscape of Svalbard can (almost) be considered to be that of a polar desert, it is a potential terrestrial analogue for cold climate landforms on Mars. Of particular interest to such studies are gullies as erosional forms. Martian gullies resemble terrestrial features formed by mass-wasting processes of a flowing mixture of clastic debris and water (debris flows). Their existence on Mars is interpreted to indicate liquid water in the recent past because of their pristine appearance, their stratigraphic relationships to young surface features, their lack of superimposed impact craters, and their distinct albedo relative to the surroundings, indicating limited dust cover. The possible existence of liquid water on Mars in the very recent past is of utmost interest to planetary science. The SPLAM project will focus on the regional distribution of gullies on the Hjorthfjellet and Adventtoppen mountain massif, and detailed local studies of individual gullies and associated alluvial (bedris flow) fans on the same mountain massif will be performed. Other landforms which are found on Svalbard and were tentatively identified on Mars are rock glaciers, patterned ground, and pingos. We will inspect these landforms and perform morphometric measurements for comparison to geomorphological mapping results based on high-resolution images of the Martian surface. The comparative analysis in the Arctic environment of Svalbard was carried out in several field campaigns (2008,2009,2011-2014,2016-2018). An airborne flight campaign with a stereo camera provided high-resolution images (20 cm/pixel) and Digital Elevation Models (DEM; 50 cm grid spacing) of selected areas on Svalbard. The studies were supported by the German Helmholtz Alliance "Planetary Evolution and Life".

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