John C. Bridges
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Mars, which has a tenth of the mass of Earth, has cooled as a single lithospheric plate. Current topography gravity maps and magnetic maps do not show signs of the plate tectonics processes that have shaped the Earth’s surface. Instead, Mars has been shaped by the effects of meteorite bombardment, igneous activity, and sedimentary—including aqueous—processes. Mars also contains enormous igneous centers—Tharsis and Elysium, with other shield volcanoes in the ancient highlands. In fact, the planet has been volcanically active for nearly all of its 4.5 Gyr history, and crater counts in the Northern Lowlands suggest that may have extended to within the last tens of millions of years. Our knowledge of the composition of the igneous rocks on Mars is informed by over 100 Martian meteorites and the results from landers and orbiters. These show dominantly tholeiitic basaltic compositions derived by melting of a relatively K, Fe-rich mantle compared to that of the Earth. However, recent meteorite and lander results reveal considerable diversity, including more silica-rich and alkaline igneous activity. These show the importance of a range of processes including crystal fractionation, partial melting, and possibly mantle metasomatism and crustal contamination of magmas. The figures and plots of compositional data from meteorites and landers show the range of compositions with comparisons to other planetary basalts (Earth, Moon, Venus). A notable feature of Martian igneous rocks is the apparent absence of amphibole. This is one of the clues that the Martian mantle had a very low water content when compared to that of Earth.
The Martian crust, however, has undergone hydrothermal alteration, with impact as an important heat source. This is shown by SNC analyses of secondary minerals and Near Infra-Red analyses from orbit. The associated water may be endogenous.
Our view of the Martian crust has changed since Viking landers touched down on the planet in 1976: from one almost entirely dominated by basaltic flows to one where much of the ancient highlands, particularly in ancient craters, is covered by km deep sedimentary deposits that record changing environmental conditions from ancient to recent Mars. The composition of these sediments—including, notably, the MSL Curiosity Rover results—reveal an ancient Mars where physical weathering of basaltic and fractionated igneous source material has dominated over extensive chemical weathering.
M.A. Ivanov and J.W. Head
This chapter reviews the conditions under which the basic landforms of Venus formed, interprets their nature, and analyzes their local, regional, and global age relationships. The strong greenhouse effect on Venus causes hyper-dry, almost stagnant near-surface environments. These conditions preclude water-driven, and suppress wind-related, geological processes; thus, the common Earth-like water-generated geological record of sedimentary materials does not currently form on Venus. Three geological processes are important on the planet: volcanism, tectonics, and impact cratering. The small number of impact craters on Venus (~1,000) indicates that their contribution to resurfacing is minor. Volcanism and tectonics are the principal geological processes operating on Venus during its observable geologic history.
Landforms of the volcanic and tectonic nature have specific morphologies, which indicate different modes of formation, and their relationships permit one to establish their relative ages. Analysis of these relationships at the global scale reveals that three distinct regimes of resurfacing comprise the observable geologic history of Venus: (1) the global tectonic regime, (2) the global volcanic regime, and (3) the network rifting-volcanism regime. During the earlier global tectonic regime, tectonic resurfacing dominated. Tectonic deformation at this time caused formation of strongly tectonized terrains such as tessera, and deformational belts. Exposures of these units comprise ~20% of the surface of Venus. The apparent beginning of the global tectonic regime is related to the formation of tessera, which is among the oldest units on Venus. The age relationships among the tessera structures indicate that this terrain is the result of crustal shortening. During the global volcanic regime, volcanism overwhelmed tectonic activity and caused formation of vast volcanic plains that compose ~60% of the surface of Venus. The plains show a clear stratigraphic sequence from older shield plains to younger regional plains. The distinctly different morphologies of the plains indicate different volcanic formation styles ranging from eruption through broadly distributed local sources of shield plains to the volcanic flooding of regional plains. The density of impact craters on units of the tectonic and volcanic regimes suggests that these regimes characterized about the first one-third of the visible geologic history of Venus. During this time, ~80%–85% of the surface of the planet was renovated. The network rifting-volcanism regime characterized the last two-thirds of the visible geologic history of Venus. The major components of the regime include broadly synchronous lobate plains and rift zones. Although the network rifting-volcanism regime characterized ~2/3 of the visible geologic history of Venus, only 15%–20% of the surface was resurfaced during this time. This means that the level of endogenous activity during this time has dropped by about an order of magnitude compared with the earlier regimes.