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water on Mars
by Aliesa Wrecenyar
Physical Geology
Spring 2017
                                                                                 The Water Phenomena on Mars
     Can water exist on Mars?  This is a huge topic of debate among scientists, and if in fact water can exist on Mars, it is a possibility of life on Mars. In 1998 NASA’s Associate Administrator Wesley Huntress Jr., stated “Wherever liquid water and chemical energy are found, there is life.  There is no exception.”

Mars atmosphere

      Mars atmosphere is very thin and coupled with its rigid temperature, water cannot exist on the surface.  However, a thin frost does form overnight on the surface. Many scientist believe that for a very short period of time, during early morning hours, that the sun melts the frost.  Since the atmosphere cannot hold the water it inevitably evaporates.  The atmospheric pressure of Mars is about .6 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere and the average temperature is negative 63 degrees Celsius. Due to this combination of elements it leads to the freezing or evaporation quickly.  It is unknown at this point how long the water exists during that point of time. The fact that there is water on the planet allows for opals to form underground, being the only planet aside from Earth that opals have been discovered.



     As you can see from the graph above Mars is made up of very low pressure, so low in fact that water is unable to reach the liquid point because of the cold temperatures. Its thin air is unable to hold liquid water.

Ice deposits on Mars

     Mars has an ice deposit that can contain as much water as Lake Superior.  This has been determined by NASA’s special equipment.  It also reveals a deposit much larger than the state of New Mexico.  There was a period in Mars’ history where the axis was tilted more than its positioned now.  We still don’t know if life had existed during that time, and if so it’s more than likely it was microorganisms.  During this period scientists suggest that melting occurred due to the difference in climate.  The ice deposit ranges in thickness from 200 feet to 600 feet Mars’ ice is made up about 50-80 percent water ice mixed with dust and rock debris.  This ice deposit is separated from the dry atmosphere by a soil layer ranging from 3 to 33 feet in thickness.  Scientists believe that the ice deposits formed when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes. This also shows that the climate has changed over many years as is it does here on planet Earth.


recurring slope lineae


Utopian Water Source

     Mars contains something called a Utopia Planitia also called the “plains of paradise”.  They are ice deposits located close to the surface and is being considered as a future resource for astronauts.  Some of the benefits include easier access for consumption because it lies in a flat smooth area instead of being buried deep below the surface where most of the ice is located.  If somehow this water could be thawed out in the future there is a strong possibility that life could exist on Mars.  The alluvial fans on Mars’ surface indicate that water once flowed freely across the surface.  If we, mankind can find a way to melt these “plains of paradise” there may be a way to inhabit the planet.  “Follow the Water” is an active program developed by NASA in the beginning of the 21st century its focus is to find out a way to harness this potential underground water deposit and answer questions concerning the waters abundance.  The only place where water can be seen is at the north polar ice cap on the planet.  Also at the Martian south pole there is abundant water ice stored in the form of carbon dioxide ice.   A fun fact that I learned is there are more than 5 million cubic kilometers of ice that has been found at or near the surface.


Mars’ surface is made up of alluvial fans, suggesting that rivers once flowed millions of years ago


Image result for mars suface ice

Surface image of mars, and polar cap.


Life on Mars?

    Having a large water supply is a key factor to support life, but there are limitations that make life above the surface impossible.  Mars lacks a thick atmosphere, an ozone layer, and magnetic field.  This means that light and radiation strike the surface without any buffers.  Cells of living organisms would be destroyed by these damaging rays.  In 1976 Scientists led experiments to determine whether life could exist in the soils of Mars.  They discovered that the soil samples had high amounts of acid, carbon dioxide, along with other gases.  Overall the presence of life in the Martian soil was undetectable and is still a major topic of debate.  The lack of carbon, and organic compounds in the soils make it impossible for life to be sustainable at this moment.  Scientists still believe that there may be a way to sustain life but there is still no solution.  Millions of years ago Mars was very similar to Earth, but today the planet is one of the most inhabitable places in the galaxy.  Another reason why life is unsustainable on Mars is the dust storms on that occur on the surface they can last for weeks and causes the sun to drop by 99 percent.  If a human colony were to survive on Mars’ surface they would contaminate the soils and water supply, the bacteria could evolve to survive in the harsh conditions and possibly mutate and cause harm to the colony.  Another drawback would be accidents, the possibility of the radiation poisoning, or lack of oxygen.  The possibility of life on Mars is definitely an interesting idea to consider for our scientists and habitants of Earth.