The Science behind ”Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition”

Fig 1. Tharsis, the volcanic province of Mars which is at least 4 GY old, is the setting for our story “Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition”. The location of our colony, “Olympia”, is at the foot of the T in “Tharsis. (MSSS/NASA/JPL/DLR (RPIF)

Tharsis, the volcanic province of Mars which is at least 4 GY old, is the setting for our story “Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition”. The location of our colony, “Olympia”, is at the foot of the T in “Tharsis. (MSSS/NASA/JPL/DLR (RPIF)

Science should be “sexy”. Once we had decided to write an article on Olympus Mons, we began to consider how to present it in a manner that would appeal to our readers. The regular science article is usually a rather monotonous enumeration of facts, figures and equations and thus heavy to digest for the average reader, but what about science fiction? Not in the generic sense where fiction dominates to the exclusion of science and all sorts of wonderful gadgets are presented in order to titillate the reader. No, we mean a story where fiction is the vehicle used to present science. Also, we chose to summarise current knowledge in the captions to the images selected to illustrate our story with. Thus what you find in the story is our interpretations and opinions as to what is likely and not hard fact! As to the technology, our only invention is the fusion power generators. The rest is what we have today at various stages of development, fast-forwarded about half a century. How well have we succeeded? That is for you to decide!

Currently, research is undertaken by NASA in order to find out how well humans cope with being cooped up together inside a small space for a period of eight months, the time of a journey from Earth to Mars. It is called the Mars Dome Project and is located to the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. The long view of the Mars One project is to establish a colony on Mars where astronauts are sent on a one-way trip in groups of four every two years due to the fact that the orbital characteristics of Mars and Earth mean that they are only in a position where a seven-month “short” journey on a so-called Hohman orbit is possible once every two years.

Fig 2. Man’s first home on Mars. Artists concept of the initial settlement of the Mars One project (Mars One)

Man’s first home on Mars. Artists concept of the initial settlement of the Mars One project (Mars One)

For several reasons, we felt that this project was not sufficient in order to serve as the background to our story. First of all, the Mars One project is too small and too vulnerable to economic and political changes. There is a not inconsiderable likelihood that it could be terminated after the first two or three groups have been sent on their one-way trip. Second, the genetic pool this results in is far too limited to allow for a sustained, long-term presence. Basically, the humans sent there are sent there to die, be it in the first, third or thirteenth generation. Third, the effort is too ethnocentric. Any such mission is and should be a global concern for mankind in its entirety and the aim should be to go there to stay, indefinitely. Furthermore, there is nothing like children to keep us sane even if they sometimes drive us nuts! For these reasons, we decided that as a minimum 300 colonists of as many genetic patterns as possible would be required in order to provide the diverse DNA-pool required for long-term survival, thus truly representing mankind.

Fig 3. Living quarters as envisaged by the Mars One project. (Artist’s concept, Mars One)

Living quarters as envisaged by the Mars One project. (Artist’s concept, Mars One)

How do we get to Mars?

The weight that can be transported from Earth to Mars is severely limited by the inefficient propulsion of our current chemical rockets. The delta-vee provided by oxidising hydrogen is too low but it is what we have accessible, as the far more efficient ion engines such as on the Dawn mission cannot be built on a large enough scale (yet?). The colonization will probably use a type of Aldrin Mars Cycler, named after the second man on the Moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who designed the orbit to be used in the early 1980s.

Fig 4. The Aldrin Mars Cycler http://buzzaldrin.com/space-vision/rocket_science/aldrin-mars-cycler/

The Aldrin Mars Cycler http://buzzaldrin.com/space-vision/rocket_science/aldrin-mars-cycler/

In essence, the Aldrin Mars Cycler is a very large space station on an orbit which regularly passes both Earth and Mars. Earth would launch a rocket with colonists, the equipment for the colony plus supplies for the journey and the fuel needed for the Mars landing. Just before the station passes Mars, the colony rocket disconnects, decelerates and lands whilst the station continues in its orbit headed for Earth. The Aldrin Cycler contains everything needed to survive an extended period in space, including a compartment with heavy radiation shielding against solar flares.

Fig 5. Two types of Aldrin Cycler orbits as part of the University of Texas project VISIT (Versatile International Station for Interplanetary Transport) http://courses.ae.utexas.edu/ase333t/past_projects/04spring/Cycler%20Website/cyclers.html

Two types of Aldrin Cycler orbits as part of the University of Texas project VISIT (Versatile International Station for Interplanetary Transport) http://courses.ae.utexas.edu/ase333t/past_projects/04spring/Cycler%20Website/cyclers.html

Although it only has to be done once, not only will it take a tremendous amount of fuel to put this station in orbit. The project is such a huge undertaking that it will most likely require the combined resources and cooperation of all the largest and most technologically advanced nations. The major advantages of the Aldrin Mars Cycler is that travel time to Mars can be as short as 5½ months, rather than the 7 months on a Hohman orbit, and that you don’t have to build a new habitation module, launch it from the bottom of Earth’s gravity well and give it enough delta-vee for a journey to Mars with each subsequent expedition. In the long run, the Aldrin cycler is the most practical and economical option available. The disadvantage is that if you miss your launch slot, you have to wait for the station to come round again which at best is two years, but depending on the cycler orbit may be as long as four, six or even more years. For more information, we recommend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_cycler

The Colony

The colony will need to be self-sufficient in as many areas as possible because re-supply from Earth is weight-limited as well as prohibitively expensive. Food, water, clothing, shelter, furniture etc must be home-grown. Chemical engineering, the ability to synthesise polymers from the “wastes” of the hydroponics garden, will be vital as clothing (and Mars survival suits!) made from cotton, wool or hemp simply is simply just not on. In short, a pair of cotton jeans will be far more rare on Mars than ermine robes and royal crowns are on Earth.

Terraforming plant of the Mars One project. Since such a project would take many (tens of) thousands of years to bear the fruit of an atmosphere thick enough to breathe without the need of a space suit, we felt this would be a waste of time, resources and energy that could be spent far more advantageously for our fictional colony. But unlike the Mars One project who are actually going there, we’re just writing a fiction article, albeit one steeped in science… (Artist’s concept, Mars One)

Terraforming plant of the Mars One project. Since such a project would take many (tens of) thousands of years to bear the fruit of an atmosphere thick enough to breathe without the need of a space suit, we felt this would be a waste of time, resources and energy that could be spent far more advantageously for our fictional colony. But unlike the Mars One project who are actually going there, we’re just writing a fiction article, albeit one steeped in science… (Artist’s concept, Mars One)

When it comes to mineral resources, the Martian surface seems to have useable amounts of iron and lots of calcium, sulphur and water. But to judge from analysis of meteorites that originally came from Mars, there are only trace amounts of other elements such as the rare earths. The processes that form large concentrations of a range of mineable minerals; the slow cooling of magma reservoirs deep underground, should also have happened on Mars, but such bodies of ore will have formed three times deeper than on Earth. No flowing water and the consequent lack of a rain cycle has led to an absence of deep erosion. This means that such mineral deposits remain inaccessible on Mars, deep underground.

As a consequence, any human settlement of Mars will by default have to be located to areas where a lot of surface has been removed; the North Polar Basin or other very large impact structures. Where magma has occurred much closer to the surface; the Tharsis volcanic province. Or where underground heat has allowed water to bring dissolved minerals up; such the Olympus Mons hotspot. Our colony Olympia is conveniently situated within range of all three.

This computer generated image of the 2,300 km wide impact feature Hellas Planitia gives a good idea of how much of the Martian crust was gouged out by this humongous planetoid strike more than four billion years ago. The image covers a width of approximately 1,300 km, roughly the distance between New York and Chicago. The altitude difference between the rim and the crater floor is 9 km. (pixgood.com, origin unstated)

This computer generated image of the 2,300 km wide impact feature Hellas Planitia gives a good idea of how much of the Martian crust was gouged out by this humongous planetoid strike more than four billion years ago. The image covers a width of approximately 1,300 km, roughly the distance between New York and Chicago. The altitude difference between the rim and the crater floor is 9 km. (pixgood.com, origin unstated)

Another prime requirement for a viable colony is energy, plenty of it. The only two viable options are fusion or fission reactors with the former being far more desirable if not yet operational. Current estimates places this about 25 years in the future. The fusion reactor will require deuterium, which will be obtainable from any source of water ice, and Helium-3. This will be a problem: Helium-3 occurs naturally in the mantle and crust. Measurements of ratios in the lithium-bearing mineral Spodumene yielded ratios of between 2-12 parts He-3 per million of He-4. Helium-3 can be synthesised in fission reactors by the neutron bombardment of Lithium-6 which results in one Helium-4 and one Hydrogen-3 (tritium) which decays into Helium-3 with a half life of 12.3 years. Luckily, fusion only requires tiny amounts and it is one of the few things that could be shipped from Earth (as well as small amounts of rare earth minerals, probably in the form of electronic components, heavily shielded from space radiation). Nevertheless, any Martian colony would want to, and need to, find a local source as it cannot be dependent upon Earth indefinitely.

At the Martian surface, apart from trace amounts in the lithium-bearing minerals Petalite, Scapolite and Tourmaline, the only source of Helium-3 is the solar wind and precious little of that enters the atmosphere. Trapped volcanic gasses may be a source which is yet another reason why Tharsis make a logical location for a Martian colony. It would have to be trapped from long ago since the current rate of outgassing on Mars is very low. Other possible sources would be the surfaces of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.

Enhanced image of the Martian moon Phobos and the giant crater Stickney. Phobos is not a proper moon as such but rather a captured asteroid measuring 27 × 22 × 18 km and its surface is one possible source for Helium-3, the helium isotope required for fusion and certain cryogenic applications. Phobos orbits Mars in 7 h 39.2 min at a distance of ~9,350 km, about 40 times closer than that of our own Moon. It’s surface gravity is so low that a human wearing a space suit would only weigh about 75 grams, less than the weight of a new-born kitten on Earth. You could actually jump off into space from its surface. (Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter image taken on March 23rd, 2008. NASA/JPL)

Enhanced image of the Martian moon Phobos and the giant crater Stickney. Phobos is not a proper moon as such but rather a captured asteroid measuring 27 × 22 × 18 km and its surface is one possible source for Helium-3, the helium isotope required for fusion and certain cryogenic applications. Phobos orbits Mars in 7 h 39.2 min at a distance of ~9,350 km, about 40 times closer than that of our own Moon. It’s surface gravity is so low that a human wearing a space suit would only weigh about 75 grams, less than the weight of a new-born kitten on Earth. You could actually jump off into space from its surface. (Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter image taken on March 23rd, 2008. NASA/JPL)

Just like the Mars One project, there would have to be an advance party to set up an initial base which is expanded in order to prepare for further arrivals. The first couple of decades would be spent just getting established in situ and it would not be until decades later that exploration of other areas of Mars could and would be undertaken – and only if there was a pressing need to the survival of the colony, short or long term! Such a need is to find the Rare Earth Elements necessary to maintain the advanced technology vital to the survival of any Space colony.

Transportation, the LLAMA™ (Large Low Altitude Mars Airship)

Getting around on Mars is going to be difficult. The lack of roads and sharp (un-eroded) rocks are hard on regular wheels, and of course wheeled vehicles have problems with steep slopes as well as crossing fissures and chasms. Winged aircraft don’t work well because of the lack of air. Some form of jet engine; compressed air providing thrust, would be required as propellers need far more dense air if they are to “bite” and provide enough thrust. We propose to use a Zeppelin-type craft. It would have to be huge, again because of the lack of air on Mars. However, they can be made huge. On Earth, airships can work in the stratosphere where air pressure is similar to that of Mars. To carry a lift of 50 tons, a Martian airship would need to be something like 400 metres long by 200 wide, and 100 meters tall. It would be filled with hydrogen, which in the absence of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is safe.

Our LLAMA, the Graf, would not be too dissimilar visually from this airship hybrid proposal by Lockheed Martin. (Lockheed Martin Corporation)

Our LLAMA, the Graf, would not be too dissimilar visually from this airship hybrid proposal by Lockheed Martin. (Lockheed Martin Corporation)

Air pressure on Mars varies by 30% between summer and winter because so much of the atmosphere freezes on to the South Polar ice cap. In order to allow for this, we make the air ship semi-inflatable. Winds on Mars can reach at least 100 km/h, but because of the low atmospheric pressure, they don’t exert much force. The tether is used to secure the air ship. Dust devils may be the main problem. Propulsion is a problem, as propellers don’t work and jet engines don’t go well with an air ship. But compressed air engines should work well which is what we envisage being used. The air ship could also be pulled along the tether by electric motors. Power can be provided by covering the huge upper surface in solar panels; even on Mars where the Sun is only half as strong as on Earth, this would give megawatts of energy. An advantage of Mars is that air pressure does not fall off as fast with altitude as it does on Earth. We run the Graf up to 10 km above the base station, and air pressure here is still 60% of that at the base.

Now why doesn’t our expedition use such a large airship to transport itself from Olympia, their home, to Olympus Mons? In spite of the low force exerted by the Martian winds, with such a large airship, they would still potentially exert enough force to cause major problems for the compressed air engines to overcome. Then there are the dust devils to contend with. An airship would in all likelihood need to run a tether for all of the 500 km, or the expedition could very well find itself doing an unscheduled fly-by of Syrtis Major instead. Even if they could manufacture a strong-enough, non-degradable polymer cable with a safe load of 75 kN such as the strongest man-made fibre at present; Carbon fibre Toray T1000G which has an ultimate tensile strength three times that of a steel cable at 2/9ths the weight, 500 km of such a cable minus anchoring devices would still weigh not less than 155 tons (on Earth), three times the capacity of the above blimp. As this would require an even larger airship, we opted for the safer overland approach and to use a smaller version of the LLAMA during the expedition. But sailing five km above the Martian landscape in a gondola slung below a gigantic airship is indeed a grand vision of the future!

Why don’t we drill deep to take core samples of the various layers? Again logistics! Any drilling done would have to be limited to no more than a few tens to a hundred of metres at most as the logistics for a deep drill (2-3 km+) would be prohibitive, especially for this exploratory survey. The drill rig alone would have required at the very least two extra vehicles in order to transport it. Then there’s the power generator, cooling and lubricating liquids plus the multi-kilometre drill pipes, which typically come in 8-10 m lengths, 7-10 cm in diameter, with a weight of 9.9 kg per metre for the smallest diameter, making it an easy rule-of-thumb of 10 tons per kilometre (on Earth). To be of any use, you would probably have to be prepared to drill at least a couple if not five km or more down. That’s two trucks for the rig, one for generators, fuel and lubrication, and three for every two kilometres of pipe. Now you need a few more trucks for living quarters, supplies etc for those drivers and operators. We’re snowballing here…

Martian volcanism

Mars has no plate tectonics, and therefore no subduction zones and no spreading centres. Instead it has scattered regions where volcanism occurred. In the absence of subduction or spreading, these must be areas above a more vigorous mantle. Martian lavas appear to be basaltic. Magma is less dense than the mantle but denser than the crust. Therefore, at a certain depth it will have the same density as the surrounding rock. This is the depth of neutral buoyancy, and here is where the magma chambers will form which feed individual volcanoes. On Earth, this is typically at a depth of 4 km. On Mars, because gravity is weaker, the depth is 10-12 km. Larger magma reservoirs may also have existed deeper, where crust and mantle meet, and these could feed eruptions over large areas. Olympus Mons is so large that its magma chamber probably has migrated upwards, under the rising weight above.

Umbrella eruption of the Tvashtar volcano on the Jovian moon Io. From the circular fallout patterns of such an eruption, it is evident that they occur elsewhere on this moon. Computer models suggest that such eruptions may have taken place on Mars too, but only just, because of the much greater Martian gravity. Composite made from two NASA/JPL images.

Umbrella eruption of the Tvashtar volcano on the Jovian moon Io. From the circular fallout patterns of such an eruption, it is evident that they occur elsewhere on this moon. Computer models suggest that such eruptions may have taken place on Mars too, but only just, because of the much greater Martian gravity. Composite made from two NASA/JPL images.

Eruptions can be explosive under the right conditions: these are the jets of magma blobs thrown high in the air and raining down some distance away. This depends on the pressure outside of the volcano: high pressure stops the explosions from happening. On Earth, deep water eruptions are not explosive but explosions are possible close to the surface and certainly in the air. Venus has a very dense atmosphere and should not have explosions. Mars at the current time has hardly any atmosphere, and so eruptions can easily be explosive (you do need volatiles; volcanic gasses such as water, carbon or sulphur dioxide, in the magma). But on early Mars, under-water eruptions would not have been explosive, and in air, may not have been. We imagine Olympus Mons changing from non-explosive to explosive as it grew in height (lower air pressure at the top) and the Martian atmosphere was lost aftr the loss of the planet’s magnetic field. Olympus Mons may also have had so-called umbrella explosions, where the lava explodes into such a thin atmosphere that the air can’t stop it. It spreads much higher and further than a normal Plinian eruption, covering a larger area as an umbrella. Models predict that this may happen on Mars once volcanoes grow to a height of 20 km or more, so at 22 km above the datum, Olympus Mons eventually put it’s metaphorical nose just above the point where umbrella explosions would have been possible.

Olympus Mons

The eruptions of Olympus Mons must have been spectacular with Plinian basaltic eruption columns reaching possibly over 20 km in height before collapsing and causing huge pyroclastic flows. This photoshop image, while far from accurate, gives an impression of what such an eruption may have looked like. (Artist; Ingrid van der Voort)

The eruptions of Olympus Mons must have been spectacular with Plinian basaltic eruption columns reaching possibly over 20 km in height before collapsing and causing huge pyroclastic flows. This photoshop image, while far from accurate, gives an impression of what such an eruption may have looked like. (Artist; Ingrid van der Voort)

Turning to Olympus Mons itself, it was discovered by Mariner 9 in 1971 and the area was extensively mapped by the Viking Orbiter in 1976. The volcano has been the subject of several studies and papers since at least 1974 and is well described even if not fully explored and thus understood. The height of Olympus Mons depends on where it is measured from. There is no sea level on Mars! There is something called “the datum” which is the average altitude of the Martian surface which if applied to Earth would be about 2 km below our mean sea level. The peak of Olympus Mons is 21 km above datum. The height can also be measured from the local surroundings; from the foot of the surrounding escarpment to the peak which gives a figure of 22 km. Alternatively, it can be taken from the North Polar basin, which yields a height of 27 km. The gradient of the slope is quite shallow with an average of five degrees. Although the escarpment is precipitous in places, typically it is between 15 and 30 degrees.

There is evidence that the lower regions Olympus Mons have been covered by glaciers, even geologically quite recently. The climate on Mars is rather variable because the planet’s angle of tilt changes over time. So even though at the current time Mars only has glaciers near the poles (and mainly the south pole which is much higher), 10 million years ago glaciers would have been present much closer to the equator. This is why our explorers discover layers of ice; ancient glaciers buried, as Elena Trofimova says, “by pyroclastic deposits not hot enough to brew chai on”.

The age of Olympus Mons activity is disputed. It is younger than the Tharsis bulge, which makes it less than 4 billion years. The ground around Olympus Mons is depressed by the weight of the volcano. But there are flows in this area which go in directions which are not ‘downhill’, and are assumed to date from a time before the Olympus Mons had grown so large that its flexure changed the ‘down’ direction. One of these flows is dated by crater count at 3.67 billion years ago, and the suggestion is that Olympus Mons formed during or after this time.

On the other hand, the vast aureole deposits surrounding Olympus Mons to distances well over a thousand kilometres have been linked with collapse of the outer perimeter of the edifice that formed the up to eight kilometres tall escarpment. They must have formed when the mountain was largely its current size. The oldest aureoles are dated at 3.53 billion years, also based on crater counts. So the bulk of Olympus Mons would have formed in no more than 140 million years and possibly much less. That gives an average eruption rate of 0.03 cubic kilometers per year. For comparison, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa has an average eruption rate of 0.09 cubic kilometers per year.

Lava flows on volcanoes on Earth are typically 10-30 m thick. This is mainly determined by how fast the lava moves: the slower it moves, the thicker the flow. On Mars, gravity is 2.5 times less than on Earth, and therefore it moves 2.5 times slower down the mountain. So you would expect the flows to be much thicker than on Earth, up to 80 m. Flows up to 200 m thick are indeed seen on Martian volcanoes. But the flows on the slopes of Olympus Mons are reported to be only around 7m thick, rather less than expected. Near the caldera, thicknesses are around 11 m. These are the flows near the surface, the last ones to erupt. It is not known whether older (buried) flows had similar thicknesses.

The lack of impact craters in some areas is taken as evidence that some of the surfaces are very young, perhaps as young as 3 million years, and that therefore lava flows have continued to occur until the present day. We have chosen to go for Olympus Mons being a long extinct volcano. The reasons are that glacial activity can also resurface areas and wipe out craters. Furthermore, hot spots on Earth don’t live forever, so why should they on Mars?

Our own musings on Olympus Mons

Since Mars is covered by a fine layer of dust which effectively prevents detailed geological survey via spectroscopy from orbit and as no rover has yet explored its slopes, what is known about Olympus Mons is mostly based on educated guesswork such as when it began to form, how long it took to grow to attain its present size and shape and how long it was active. Much of this guesswork, especially the dating, is based on crater counts and the absence of medium to smaller craters is taken as evidence for the volcano to have been active possibly as recently as a few million years ago. However, as we point out in Part II, their absence could equally well be explained by the effects of erosion and landslides over the past 3.5 GY.

Mars Olympus Mons Evolution

The evolution of Olympus Mons as seen in cross section and superimposed on a computer-derived picture. Please note that the image used is neither accurate, nor to scale! In order to outline the principles involved, height has been exaggerated as are our additions! The weight of the edifice will have cause the original Martian surface to deform as illustrated by the bottom black line. The edifice built during a hypothetical subaquatic eruption phase is in blue, the subaerial phase in green and the edifice built after the loss of the Martian atmosphere, the post-atmospheric phase, in orange-brown. The latter includes the outer perimeter lost to collapse events. Because of the point of neutral buoyancy for the Martian crust being located about 10-12 km below the surface, it is clear that any magma reservoir would have had to move upwards as the edifice grew. This is shown by the red and maroon ovals and the path outlined by the grey lines.

We began our own journey of exploration with two graphs, one showing a cross section of the present-day edifice, the other the temporal setting for two hypothetical types of hotspot energy output from circa 3.8 GY BP to about 20 MY BP, the alpha and omega of Olympus Mons according to the current view. Since these were open-ended, we did not exclude the possibility that Olympus Mons began to form below the surface of a primordial and hypothetical Martian Ocean, i.e. it started erupting sub-aquatically, then the eruptions became sub-aerial until loss of atmosphere changed the nature of even basaltic eruptions from effusive to explosive, the post-aerial period. It immediately became apparent that almost the entire edifice is the result of the latter type of eruption, hence even if Olympus Mons may initially have been a shield volcano, it must be regarded as a pyroclastic stratovolcano as the effusive eruptions that form shield volcanoes became impossible once Mars lost most of its atmosphere about 3.8 GY BP.

Hotspot Energy Output over Time. The grey and maroon curves show the respective profiles of two different, hypothetical, types of hotspot output curves. The hypothetical subaquatic phase is represented by dark blue, the subaerial phase by light blue and the eruptive period after Mars had lost its atmosphere is in pink. Irrespective of which type is more accurate, it is clear that almost the entire bulk of Olympus Mons was constructed during the post-aerial phase.

Hotspot Energy Output over Time. The grey and maroon curves show the respective profiles of two different, hypothetical, types of hotspot output curves. The hypothetical subaquatic phase is represented by dark blue, the subaerial phase by light blue and the eruptive period after Mars had lost its atmosphere is in pink. Irrespective of which type is more accurate, it is clear that almost the entire bulk of Olympus Mons was constructed during the post-aerial phase.

The current viev is that Mars formed at the same time as Earth and the other planets about 4.5 GY BP. The Tharsis Volcanic Province probably came into existence about or just before 4 GY BP and the giant volcanoes began to form somewhere around or just prior to 3.8 GY BP. This date is very important in the evolution of Mars as the planet lost its magnetic field at that date and any atmosphere would have been, geologically speaking, quickly stripped away by the Solar wind after which Mars was left with a very thin and tenuous envelope of air. Thus it is highly likely that the vast majority of the Olympus Mons edifice was built after this loss of atmosphere.

The Martian atmosphere is very thin, about 1/100th of Earth’s, and the current atmospheric pressure at “sea level” is 600 pascal (0.087 psi), about 0.6% of Earth’s of 101.3 kilopascals. The typical atmospheric pressure at the top of Olympus Mons is 72 pascal, about 12% of the average Martian surface pressure. At this kind of pressure, even the most modest content of volcanic gasses in the (basaltic) magma would result in at least Péléan if not Plinian eruptions. When the two facts of the age and type of eruptions are added together, the conclusion can be none other than that Olympus Mons is a volcanic edifice built by successive layers of pyroclastically deposited strata and thus is a stratovolcano and not a shield volcano, especially if thin layers of water ice lie between such strata as has been proposed as the explanation for the unusual escarpment.

For how long was Olympus Mons active? Without direct samples available for laboratory analysis, an approximation can be arrived at only by guesswork. There are two indirect ways to arrive at a reasonable figure for this. The first of this is a comparison with the hotspots of Earth. The longest chain on Earth is the Hawaii-Emperor Seamount chain that stretches from the still submarine Loihi just east of Hawaii to where the chain is being subducted beneath the Kamchatka peninsula. It is at least 85 MY old. The Kerguelen hotspot in the Indian Ocean is considered to be 130 MY old. The age of the Réunion hotspot has been proven by core samples to be 64 MY. Their age and geochemical data directly link the Galápagos hotspot track on the Pacific Ocean floor to the Caribbean large igneous province, which gives an age of 95 MY. The longest-serving, if the term is permitted, hotspot could be the Icelandic one if its identity as the hotspot responsible for the Siberian Traps Large Igneous Province, LIP, is proven. This would place it at 250 MY, but this proposal is contested. From Earthly evidence, it would seem that hotspots have a maximum age of about 200 million years at the most and there is no reason to think that Martian hotspots would deviate much from this value. From this inferred evidence, the eruptive period of Olympus Mons can be placed to between 3.8 to 3.6 GY BP and we can also postulate that it has been extinct for at least 3½ billion years.

The second method is to consider the lower limit for material erupted that would allow a magma reservoir not to solidify beyond the point of remobilisation. This figure has a lower limit of about 0.015 cubic kilometre per annum. If that is set in relation to the volume of Olympus Mons, we ought to arrive at an outer limit. As mentioned in the article, a cone with a base of 600 km and height of 22.5 km has a volume of 2.2 million km3. But OM is not conical. To begin with, it has a scarp as high as 8 km and much of the edifice extends substantially outside the conical approximation. Then the material lost to the ginormous landslides that cover the surrounding plains up to a distance of 1,000 km and beyond OM have to be taken into account, as well as the crustal deformation caused by the enormous weight of the edifice. If these are factored in, we arrive at back-of-the-envelope calculations of anywhere between 4 and 5 million km3. Were the latter, larger figure to have been erupted at the lowest realistic estimate rate of 0.015 km3 per year, we arrive at an outside figure of 333 million years. Again, the conclusion is that Olympus Mons has been extinct for about 3½ billion years. Thus the recent date derived by crater counts must be in error or the hotspot must have reformed at a later date. Since 3½ billion years of erosion and landslides would account for the dearth of young craters, it is the more likely explanation.

Final comments

Will we ever explore Olympus Mons and the other Tharsis volcanoes? That depends upon the motives presented in favour of such an exploration. Intellectual curiosity will not be enough, there has to be a “hard need”. We believe that if humans are to successfully colonise Mars, they will require to be self-sufficient and not reliant upon shipments from Earth. In order to maintain the level of technology that their very survival requires, they must in all probability locate and exploit Martian sources of the Rare Earth Elements and Helium-3. This makes Tharsis with its giant volcanoes the best candidate. In all probability, such an initial exploration would take place using robot vehicles, rovers such as the incredibly successful Spirit and Opportunity, long before the final choice of location for our first Martian colony is made. Hence our story is likely to remain just that, a story. But it has been immense fun to write this mini-series and we hope that our viewers will have derived at least half as much enjoyment reading it as we did in writing it.

May 2015, Henrik & Albert

http://www.mars-one.com/mission
http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/1000
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympus_Mons

169 thoughts on “The Science behind ”Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition”

    • Another fan of that trilogy: do you think that if enough of us mithered Henrik and Albert they might get around to reading it? 🙂 For what it’s worth I’ve posted a link for VC to an official (more or less) Kim Stanley Robinson site. A very long shot, but it would be great if Stan himself saw it and posted on here

  1. Autonomous robotic vehicles or humanoid rovers will probably be developed before the technology exists to send people for extended missions to Mars and these could be sent instead,no life support needed and able to do basically the same tasks.

    • Humanoid rovers?
      Even if you detach the brain you would still need a fair bit of life support. And quite honestly, solve the question how a brain inside a humanoid rover could have a Saturday beer.

      • Yes when you are watching the news on your transparent aluminum screen in the year 2036 while sipping a cardboard can of non alcohol beer,and they say the first humanoid rover has been sent to mars,remember you heard it here first😊.Why do you think an entity designed to operate in a lower gravity and low atmospheric environment like Mars will be bipedal,stumbling over rocks,but have a brain an approximation of a human and hands with dexterity sure😊

    • On a serious note.
      After this fantastic series by Henrik and Albert I am after all even more convinced that the future of humanity in space is away from the gravitetic wells of planets.
      After all, everything we need is out there for the taking in the asteroid belts without negotiating all the cost for fighting gravity. Yes, we need to do it once to get out of earth, but why get trapped again?
      I recommend reading Gerard K. O’Neills groundbreaking work The High Frontier.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Frontier:_Human_Colonies_in_Space

      • O’Neill Colonies, yes. But start with Asimov’s Lucky Starr novels and the spacer civilisation. 🙂

        Humanoid rovers? Would that by any chance be a reference to cyborgs?

        • Androids more than cyborgs as the latter having living tissue and all the problems of keeping the living tissue alive bin a low pressure,high radiation environment.The autonomous android or other robotic entity including rovers ,drones etc, on instruction could do the tasks assigned without constant attention via human operators and the associated time delay problems.No food or oxygen,required ,just a fuel source that can be derived from the Martian soil or be nuclear powered.No chance of infection by potential Martian microbes.These intelligent robots could build habitats for any potential human visitors and could be sent in multiple units for redundancy.Humans are a liability in space travel and not needed except for political purposes.Current probe technology has been very successful and enhance that with much greater technology and there is no need to send a human to another planet in the solar system.Just design the machine for the peculiarity of the planet it is destined for and not a modification of something that would work on earth.

          • For example a Mars rover should look more like this,with large wheels and very little rolling resistance,so obstacles can be rolled over,and if it tipped over it could right itself or continue its mission upside down.

        • The SF you really need if we’re talking L-5 / O.Neill habitats / asteroid mining is probably more some of the seriously hard-engineering bods in the field: Allen Steele, Charles Sheffield, James Hogan, some Larry Niven, and the like. Doubtless the fannish element on VC will add more

      • Personally, I would lean more towards tele-presence. The only real draw back is latency in the data feed and a high enough bandwidth to pull it off. No need to rip out someone’s brain to stick it into a vehicle. The Vorlons might take exception to that as they did with the Shadows.

        A command rover, with the room needed for robust life support and communications gear could easily support/deploy a smaller (and more expendable) rover with tele-presence capability. Modern sensor gear could easily use X-Ray florescence to determine elemental concentrations of found samples. With the advent of things such as the Occulus Rift, the operator would see and operate as if they are on the mini rover… or as if they actually were the mini rover.

        Feasibility? Well, we already have operators flying drone missions who are well outside of combat zones. With a good semi-autonomous system to deal with craft stability, little effort would be needed to keep the vehicle operable. The “driver” would be relegated to management level operations rather than having to worry about how to get over a rock or loosing life support.

        • One of the ideas I seem to recall floated, was to send humans to orbit the planet and control the devices from orbit with no time lag,would work except the astronauts may go crazy😊,plus you still have the life support problem.Did you ever see Captain Kirk go to the bathroom 😂

          • GL self drive car technology is a major step in this direction because it has to have a high level of failsafe to work which would make it ideal for space missions.Space technology has to be like modern car technology able to work for long periods with minimal or no maintenance,it cannot be like military tech where a virtual army of technicians keeps this equipment maintained.In essence you have to develop “true” technology,something that can be used by anyone anywhere,simple but clever.

          • Which is why management of the system requires a person in the loop. I was fully amazed the other day when my GPS system did not try to get me to drive through a corn field like it did the first time I went to that site. Yeah, I could have made it, but I don’t think the farmer would have been happy.

            As for Kirk, that’s why no one wanted to go into the Jeffries tube.

            Self drive cars… meh, they are currently only really good at station keeping. No real advancements are out yet. The Darpa Grande Challenge was a step in that direction though.

          • A bit of clarification. “Station Keeping” is that part of navigation where you maintain your position relative to the formation… or in this case, a reference. For ships, it has to do with staying in a particular location with reference to “The Guide.” For vehicles, such as Tesla’s car with the self drive update, it’s relative to the lane and other traffic.

            What was done in the Darpa Grand Challenge, was that the vehicles had to hit a series of pre-programmed GPS positions and negotiate the path there by themselves. For safety, chase vehicles were following in the event the computer doing the driving had an issue.

        • Sadly your link cannot be read if you have an add blocker on. So it won’t be read by me.

          Autonomous vehicles are fine. But they are not very good at repairing themselves. Curiosity’s main problem is wear on the tyres, far worse than had been expected. This is one of the reasons why we went for airborne transport.

          Sure, we do a lot of exploration in the solar system robotically. But it is limited to the experiment they are designed for. Dealing with unexpected discoveries has not been a forte of the robots. Colonisation is also not the same without humans being involved somewhere.

          • Look at the diameter of the wheels on Curiosity,if those wheels had been twice the diameter,they would have had a fraction of the wear as there would be fewer revolutions to go the same distance and small rocks would have less of an impact on momentum.Do you ever see a 4X4 with 16 inch diameter tires,also why 6 wheels that is more friction and rolling resistance.Overly complex and really a miracle it has operated for so long?

          • I don’t believe so. The aluminium kept being punctured by the sharp rock. That kind of wear does not get better with width of the tyre. Curiosity now tries to drive as much as possible on sand.

          • Oh goodie… I wonder how long Erik K. will stick it out there now that people cannot even read his articles without being force-fed with distracting rubbish… It’s bloody ransom ware they stick into your face…

  2. Just a quickie about the actual post; if Olympus Mons is shield-like in form, but built up largely by major pyroclastic flows, would it not be more correct to call it a ‘pyroclastic shield’ rather than a stratovolcano?

    • It would be possible, but it would also remove the focus from the fact that it is not a shield- but a strato-volcano.

  3. Amazing post. Thank you.

    My wife and I recently heard on the radio that the ideal first people to go to Mars would be a happily married middle-aged couple: not too much to lose if there was a disaster, used to being together, content in each other’s company and so able to survive 6 months cooped up in a tin can. We thought we might volunteer.

    Trouble struck a short while later. We were in the car, me driving. At the first roundabout we came to, Mrs am57 decided the way I flick the indicator stalk annoys her. (Really!) Just imagine the effect turning left at the Moon on the way to Mars could have. Application withdrawn.

    • One other thing-this was a great series, and I truly regret not reading this in the Spacernet office on Ceres..

    • From tgmccoy’s link;

      “The data clearly showed that the Traps were blown into existence at a spot that now lies off the Norwegian coast in the North Sea. What’s more, they realized that the spot coincides with the place where geologists believe a mantle plume created another massive outpouring of lava some 60 million years ago. The same plume is responsible for Iceland and its volcanism.”

      And to get there, I think that the plume would have had to have tracked near Sweden… That supports the idea behind the high purity of their iron mines. (The core-mantle plume idea)

      The Kiruna mine has an ore body which is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) long, 80 metres (260 ft) to 120 metres (390 ft) thick and reaching a depth of up to 2 kilometres

      Having a grading of more than 60% iron and an average of 0,9% phosphorus, the ore contains a very pure magnetite-apatite mix.

      • Only thing is the Kiruna formation is 1.7 BY which is at least seven times older than the Siberian Traps and hotspots, whatever their nature, do not last that long. But it is a beautiful theory. 🙂

      • Okay, got tripped up in the timing. But I do like the core – mantle idea, though it’s not mine.

      • Another problem is that the Icelandic plume is young and evolving. It is about as old as Iceland and has been pretty much stationary during the formation of Iceland.

        • Weren’t you previously in the camp that believed the North Atlantic LIP was the same plume as the Siberian Traps (As suggested by TGMccoy’s link)?

          • Yes I was that. But the North Atlantic Lip formation is not the same hotspot as Iceland.

        • So somewhat wild hypothetical idea that is probably entirely unrealistic.

          Would it be possible to use faults as power sources? I would imagine this would be more effective for faults that are more inclined to slip past each other in more slow slip style events, but I would think it could hypothetically be possible to store the energy of a fast slip event with some extremely advanced engineering (and a LOT of gearing that could absorb the sudden movement and distribute the energy over a long time period).

          With the ridiculous amount of energy that gets stored in faults, it just made me think of it as a potential natural power source.

          • Woops – meant to post this at the bottom. Going to repost it since it’s not a reply to something in this thread string.

  4. Henrik/Albert:

    I have a question about the post-aerial eruptions of Olympus Mons and the Rare Earth problem. If the majority of the edifice erupted after Mars lost her atmosphere, due to the loss of her magnetic field – which is driven by (theoretically) a liquid iron core – when the core solidified, how was there enough residual heat remaining in the interior to drive the edifice onward for … a very long time? I get that the interior would still be (and probably remains) warm, but would it be enough to drive a millennially-aged hotspot within Tharsis to build the rather impressive (understatement) volcanoes we see today? The surface area of Mars is roughly that of Earth – if only counting the dry-land areas here. Mars was doomed (due to size alone) to cool rapidly after formation, which would explain why a lot of Fe remains on the surface – so much so that it looks like an analog of Western Australia from orbit; it didn’t have time to sink. This may suggest a rather homogeneous interior, with an increase in Fe and Ni as you head to the core and explain why the mag field was so short lived. How would that interior homogeny go to drive a hotspot for X millions of years when there may not even be a delineated mantle to begin with? But, that homogeny would be advantageous with regards to your rare-earth problem. Not having time to sink would leave a great deal of the minerals near the surface – especially in the ejecta from and rim of Hellas Planitia and the other thousands of impactors. The Ir, Nd, Sb, Mo, and Y simply have no place to go with the inherent lack of erosion on Mars. Just, look where the wind won’t blow (ie, in lees, caves, within ejecta boulders, and shattercone outcrops.)

    Love the series. And thank you for your insights.

    • Trying again, ate my comment.
      You may have a valid point – REE would likely be easier to come by from paleoplacer or aeolian deposits, heck even uranium could be found depending on the chemistry of the old martian atmosphere. There should have been enough time to form deposits of the monazite sand type, and had the added benefit that the milling & separatoin has already been nearly done for you.

    • Good question. Cores form quickly and easily, all it takes is a molten planet and that happens almost inevitably early on, due to radioactive heating if nothing else. Even dwarf planets such as Vesta have an iron core (but Ceres does not). That would have happened on Mars too. Mars’ density is a bit less than Earth’s and so its iron core is smaller: it had less iron to begin with. Heat was lost rapidly due to its smaller size, until the crust thickened. That is a difference with Earth: the Martian crust grew thicker and monolithic, and is a better insulator than the crust of Earth. As a result, the upper mantle may now even be a bit warmer than that of Earth. The temperature gradient is less and convection is either small or non-existent. But there must have been some 4 billion years ago when the Tharsus bulge formed. There may be a lot of liquid magma in the lithosphere, more than on earth. There is evidence for past volcanism everywhere you look. But it is probably all quite old and Olympus Mons may have been part of the last stirrings. Throw in some very large impacts (such as Hellas) and you have a planet with an exciting youth but not much since. There are lots of claims for recent volcanic flows on the slopes of Olympus Mons, but we were not convinced than non-volcanic effects had been ruled out. Only a few million years ago the mountain was covered in glaciers and these can also erode craters away. There is agreement that the growth of the volcano was quite fast: our number above of 10-100 million years or so seems to fit the data.
      The idea for ballastic pyroclastic growth is more speculative but the numbers suggest it could have happened towards the end. That is a type of volcanism that does not occur on earth.

    • I agree with Albert, very good questions VL! The main problem as I understand it is not the quick cooling of the core but that of the crust coupled with the fact that the point of neutral density (where you would expect to find plutonic mineralisation) lies some 10-12 km below the the surface. Aeolian enrichment of Monazite sands at or near the aureoles formed by the flank collapses is one interesting possibility (which we did mention or hint at). Another possibility which we did not go into is to drill deep and setting off flank collapses with thermonuclear devices until we gain access to any old magma chamber that due to the size of the edifice has migrated to above the datum. It would be a sort of last-ditch attempt, but if everything else fails, we would destroy Olympus Mons or any other, perhaps more promising volcano, make no mistake! Were it a question of conservation or survival, the latter would win.

      Indeed, the question may be so critical that a thorough Martian survey by rovers, including the bottom of the Valles Marineris chasm and places such as Hellas Planitia would take place before a location is chosen.

      • I have a few good recipes up my sleve in case Katla erupts before Hekla. 🙂

      • No – I think you can leave te hat-eating and put a feather in your cap instead. Bardy performed as you requested.

        • Thanks Albert!

          All I did was to extrapolate the behavior from three months back. It looks really linear. Now, to stay on the line we need 2-3 weeks of nothing but smaller tremors before the next M3 or larger hits. If we do see more stars before that, I guess they will probably be on the lower end of the scale.

          • Quake energy per week, I think. It is quite constant. Not sure about inflation: the size of the earthquakes is easier to explain with things going down rather than up, if that is what is providing the power.

          • Since there is no visible inflation going on it is shrinking magma causing this.

          • Does the transfer of thermal energy decrease with increasing magmatic vesticulation?

          • Not sure I understand the question. Do you mean vesiculation? Solid rock is a pretty good insulator but the magma is surrounded by it anyway. Thermal energy is not important, as the cooling is so slow. Gravitational energy and stress are more important; stress obviously only in solid rock.

          • Yes that was meant to be vesicular ion,in other words if the magma has foamed will energy transfer into the surrounding country rock be decreased?

          • I would not say that it is so small.
            And just to make Geyser aroused; For the Godabunga cryptodome the average is 0,5cm annualy of heat derived deflation. For the far larger Bárdarbunga magma reservoir it is probably around 1 to 2 centimeters per year.

          • Magmatic foam?
            Out breaking the laws of physics again Geyser, this time it is the Curie-Weiss Law.
            Read up on the Curie temperature, I think you will find it enlightening since it is one of the common ways to calculate the size of the magma reservoir. While you are at it, read up on Boltzmann’s constant while you are at it, that seems to be one of the fundamentals of physics that you always tangle up in.

            Did you read magmatic as magnetic? Admin

            Yes, he did. Isn’t it cool with people talking inside ones comments? Another Admin

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curie_temperature

          • This process happens mainly during the rapid decompression and cooling as magma is ejected. I would not expect it in a confined magma chamber: this vesiculation requires cooling and as bubbly material insulates well, it stops that cooling. So the process within a magma chamber seems self defeating. The paper proposes an RT instability but lack of cooling would suppress that, I believe.

            Below a few kilometer depth you can’t get holes anyway as the pressure is too high. So you are talking about a surface or near-surface effect.
            The main effect would be on the surface, and to insulate a lava flow from the atmosphere.

            Bardarbunga has an icecap on top. An eruption underneath the ice could not freely expand and therefore would not cool well. I expect you would not get vesiculation until it breaks through the ice.

            Can I have a discussion inside my comment too?

          • I guess I was trying to infer a shallow magma intrusion would start to vesiculate without the need to erupt due to entering a lower pressure environment.Stop laughing Carl😊

          • You know Geyser, that is the exact point where it get’s hairy near a volcano. Ie., boom.
            And while I am at it, that would also show on the GPSes 😉

            Edit: Seems like my Admin collegues have started to have discussions inside my comments. And yes, I admit that I somehow read “magnetic foam” instead of “magmatic foam”.
            Dear collegues, I do though stand for my comment that Geyser should read up on Curie-temperature and Boltzmann’s Constant since it would help him/her a lot since it is connected to pretty much all his/her comments. No offence meant Geyser.

          • I must admit I was wondering if you read magnetic.My comment re. vesiculation were more along the lines of a rhyolite type emplacement overlaid with a heavy bedrock such as the Caldera im,so whether it could decompress some what without eruption due purely to the heavy buttress of rock and ice at the rim maintaining an equilibrium ,but instead cause localized ground deformation.The changing intrusion density composition giving a evolving counter intuitive seismic signal?

          • No.
            And here is why Geyser.
            First of all we know that there is no rhyolite inside Bárdarbunga, the turnaround time of the magma from arrival to eruption is just to short.
            But, in a rhyole containing system the rhyolite is pre-depleted of volatiles as it is, and any intrusion would rapidly re-vigorate the rhyolite and it would expand and erupt. This happened in Askja by the way.

            Now, let us play with your pet idea. If there was a shallow rhyolite intrusion that mysteriously started to foam on itself it would be visible on the GPSes, if there was an intrusion of fresh magma nearing the rhyolite it would show on the GPSes, and if the intruding fresh magma hit the rhyolite there would be extremely fast expansion prior to the GPSes flying away towards Tokyo.

            So, as long as there is no sign on a GPS there is nothing happening. Instead the GPSes show slow deflation of the system right now, and they show steady inflation in Grimsvötn. The truth is really out there, you just try to avoid it.

          • Well I had a hypothesis and you shot it down with a well reasoned discussion.I guess if the IMO thought there was something on that NNE rim they would have positioned a GPS and strain meters right over the epicenter of the bulk of the shallow earthquake activity,the fact they have not done so shows they have no corn for this activity and that alone validates your point,I rest my case.Crypto dome busted 😊

          • Well, you fought hard for it.
            I would though love a few strainmeters around the area, but strainmeters sadly requires boreholes and something tells me that they are not going to spend money on drilling those holes.

          • The glacier probably prevents the installation of a lot of equipment, so in a sense they forced to fly almost blind.

        • I have no investment in whether Bárðarbunga is inflating or deflating, but at 17.24 Geyser expressed regret that there is no CGPS station at the NNE rim of the caldera. In fact, there has been one on the NNW rim since last summer – at the nunatak named Kista. Its name is KISA and it seems to me, non-expert that I am, to show inflation beginning around the same time that the regular M3s began.

          The last thing I’d want to do is to flog a dead horse, but I would be interested to learn how this plot might relate to the discussion about what might (really) be going on Bárðarbunga. Or perhaps it’s just a seasonal effect. Cheers.

          • The plot is not correct, here is the corrected (detrended) plot, also note the data after Dec 31 has been removed since icing makes it unusable

          • Thank you Ian F for putting up the corrected plot.
            This is a stark lesson to everyone to not use un-corrected plots unless you are seriously adroit at reading them.
            A small correction though, the data after 31 december 2015 is not removed due to ice-problems, it is removed from all GPSes due to what seems to be a server-side problem when calculating todays plot, this happens now and then. They will return soon again.

          • Thanks for the correction Carl, I meant to say after Feb 9th, that is when the data stopped at KISA and as you said, the dates are messed up on most of the charts today

          • IanF ,just as a matter interest,where is the nearest GPS located in terms of distance from the mean epicenter of the bulk of the shallow earthquakes on the NNE rim?

          • I would be very reticent to draw any conclusions from KISA. Why now? Well, it is situated on top of a different volcano.
            It is at Kistufell and would be more likely to show an intrusion there than at Bárdarbunga, and remember that there has been repeated intrusions at depth there signifying a root fill of the chamber there.

            The way to go is to calculate the combined trajectories of more distant GPSes from Bárdarbunga, and if you do that you will see that the ongoing inflation is close to Grimsvötn. Especially the trajectory changes at Höfn is telling.

          • Many thanks, IanF and Carl. Sorry if my post caused any confusion, but at least it’s helped illustrate some of the muddles the more amateurish amateurs like me can get into. 🙂

        • @ Lurking 00.44: love it! Only question is, is it inflating or deflating? 😉

    • It seems like there is a server side problem.
      I hope that they get it fixed soon.

    • For those who are wondering why we are trying to look closer at things.
      There was a short-lived earthquake swarm at Bárdarbunga containing about 20 earthquakes with two shallow earthquakes reaching M3.3 and M3.6 respectively.
      There has been no eruptive sequence, but there may have been a very short-lived hydrothermal event.
      No eruption is likely at the present.

      • Dang, looking at the figure detailing the tectonics of the region, what kind of convoluted dynamics is going on in the area (and at what SPEED!) The mid to lower trench appears to be behaving as one would expect from a trench, however, the further north you go (and especially when you leave the islands into the Bay of Bengal) the “trench” appears to transition away from subduction into strike/slip and again into some sort of anti-subduction (but not rifting). Not to mention with speeds between 54-65mm p/yr, I am surprised that there are not more Toba’s, Tambora’s, or Karakatoa’s in the region.

        I wonder…when will the Indian Plate stop driving into the Eurasian plate and halt the growth of the Himalayas? Eventually, even the caboose catches up with the engine if the train runs into the side of a mountain…

        • The area were the earthquake happened is breaking up into smaller crustal plates in a process called book-shelving. It is when the area between the fore-arc and the back-arc gets laterally broken into shard of oceanic crust.
          Think “torque-faulting” and you will kind of get an image of it.

          • Torquing, not unlike the Horn of Africa coming off and rotating NW?

          • Yes, but at the same time splintering as it is twisted away and you have it.
            Today was a splintering earthquake of sort.

          • Christchurch is interesting ,as it seems like a “noisy” slow slip event,as the surface ground movement is out of proportion to the earthquake strength.Cliff collapse with a 5.7 mag quake for example as well a extensive liquidation and ground subsidence.The motion of the 2011 >6 mag quake was very severe.I think not so much a movement of a single fault but a release of crustal stress over a larger area?

          • Christchurch is not unique in its damage v. magnitude delta. Similar events have occurred at higher and lower magnitudes: the 1886 Charleston SC Earthquake and the 1865 Memphis TN earthquakes being two of those.

            http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/events/1886_09_01.php
            Charleston is inferred to be a 6.8-7.1 and almost leveled the whole city – we (I live here) still have earthquake bolts in most of the period buildings downtown to this day and there were sand-blows all up and down the Lowcountry.

            http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/events/1865_08_17.php
            Memphis is inferred to be no more than a 5.0 yet it did considerable damage to the Memphis area and the ground and Mississippi River was seen to undulate.

            What I am trying to get at here is that it isn’t the size of the MM of the quake that matters most; it is where it occurs, how deep it occurs, and what the surrounding ground strata contains. In the case of Charleston, the ground is a lot of sand and delta alluvial’s on top of a low water table. Memphis is similar, in that it is on a flood plain. Christchurch’s local region appears to be … the same?

          • In the post Christchurch quake… the one that got everyone’s attention, the thought was trundled out that the seismic shock passed through the city twice since it was reflected off of a nearby mountain. In Memphis, there are several platonic emplacements in the area that can serve to provide the same effect. These are fairly deep structures likely associated with solidified magmatic emplacements from the Reelfoot rift structure. Think of them as failed volcanoes.

    • Tsunami warning issued. It is probably far enough away and not quite strong enough, so hopefully nothing much will happen.

      • There will not be any tsunami from a lateral strike-slip like this, so it was pulled as fast as it was issued. Not even the larger M8.6 in the vicinity a few years ago caused a tsunami.

  5. There has been no aftershocks from this earthquake could this mean then it was a fore shock and a greater earthquake will happen ?

  6. It would be nice if a post is removed ,the reason for removal could be given as a courtesy,not just remove the post without a trace?

    /We will look into it and see if we can find it.
    Admin

  7. This image explains why I love volcanoes (and Guatemala)!

    This is Fuego during eruption on the first of Mars. It has pretty much been doing these things since New Years Eve, but it has slowly but steadily grown in scale and ferocity. Imagine this fire, all the greens and flowers, the ocean… I want to be back home again. Sigh…

    And I miss my wife (obviously), on the first of January we sat close by Fuego and watched the show.

          • Or just something that is not possible within the realm of laws of physics. Your idea is not within the realm of what is possible within those laws.

          • Interesting,please inform me how a shallow viscous magma intrusion is against the law of physics?😊

          • It would imply that it is happening with materia that has zero mass, zero energy and zero volume.

      • Other people know more about this than I do, but the size of the earthquakes to me do not imply inflation. It is much harder to get mechanical energy from upward motion: downward motion works much better. The location of the earthquakes is just inside the ring fault, and borders the region of swarms during the caldera collapse. I think it is more likely this is a follow-up of the collapse rather than a shallow magma intrusion. It has been reported here that the deep earthquakes trace new magma movement but that is different: the large earthquakes are almost all very shallow.

        Eventually Bardarbunga will come to live again. But I don’t think this is it.

        • The pattern of earthquakes seem to me today imply a rhythmic release of energy,like the lid clattering on a boiling pot? Does the recent pattern indicate decay,to suggest deflation from gravity against the high pressure of the crust environment?

          • There is an indication of repetition, with similar quakes happening after a period of several weeks. I don’t see a decline in this. You could get this from a uniformly draining reservoir, constant rate of water heating (think geyser) (I mean, think about the Yellowstone variety), or some such. It hasn’t been going on for long enough to know how it is developing. But my bet is on something going down rather than up. (I have been known to be wrong.)

        • I would say that your hypothesis is proven by sensory data from the GPS. There is just nothing on any of them signifying inflation for the Bárdarbunga volcano. Instead there is evidence of ongoing slow deflation.

          • You have to separate wider field inflation due to an inflating deep magma chamber from a localized shallow inflation such as a c********e which may not cause movement in GPS away from its general location?

          • VONC doesn’t seem to be showing any inflation, but if I am reading it correctly, KISA does seem to. And it looks to me as though this period of inflation, which may have levelled out now, began in November, which, iirc, was when we started to get these fairly regular M3s.

            I can’t remember the technical term, but it looks to me as though the “best” line through the dots before November would be lower than it is now…

          • But cbus05 the horse gets two 3mag heart quakes every month,if we beat it some more it might wake up…please wake up Barda…you old thing😁

          • Ha, good one, Cbus. And there was me, deleting a post about the M3s being caused, not by unicorns but by the shaking of chains by those consigned to Fiery Nether Regions for flogging dead horses.

          • And it would still show Geyser.
            There is no inflation at Bárdarbunga. None, nothing, de nada, inget, non, njet, nein, nope, no way and not to be had.
            The only part that is currently inflating in all of Iceland is what should be inflating, and that is Grimsvötn.

  8. So somewhat wild hypothetical idea that is probably entirely unrealistic.

    Would it be possible to use faults as power sources? I would imagine this would be more effective for faults that are more inclined to slip past each other in more slow slip style events, but I would think it could hypothetically be possible to store the energy of a fast slip event with some extremely advanced engineering (and a LOT of gearing that could absorb the sudden movement and distribute the energy over a long time period).

    With the ridiculous amount of energy that gets stored in faults, it just made me think of it as a potential natural power source.

    • I wonder if that would not be into the realm of cyberpunk new gothic. It is probably possible, and would look fantastic with an abundance of gears made out of brass on black. Feasible? Think not.
      But, I have been toying with a piece of equipment that would at least measure the piezo-electric discharge of a large earthquake.

      • Giving it slightly more thought, I was actually thinking something like a hydraulic piston. And since I’m wasting time where I should be working instead, I decided to draw up a simple diagram.

        The simple idea is to use a lever anchored on opposite sides of the fault. When the fault slips, this induces movement in the lever, which compresses the hydraulic chamber. Once fault movement is complete, the now-compressed hydraulic chamber will push back the stored energy from the fault movement, which would power a generator, thus creating power.

        Still a bit “out there”, but I don’t think it’s as unfeasable as many things.

        • I did not say it was physically impossible, I just think it would be mindboggingly big. 🙂
          And it would look nice made out of brass on black with huge pistons groaning in the night as earthquakes went off.

          (I like your idea, but the practicality…)

      • Talking of piezo-electric discharge of earthquakes: a hypothesis has been put forward (Devereux ‘Earthlights’) which suggests a link between the visual phenomena associated with this , so-called ‘earthquake lights’ and UFOs. Probably the most sensible (read: more or less sane) contribution to that subject in many years

        • I am staying clear of things that people see in the night, especially when beer and UFOs are involved.

          That being said, if you torment a piece of rock with a high silica content you get piezo-electric discharge. Problem is just to learn how to read that discharge over a prolonged time. But, that is the leg-work of young strapping ph.d. students. 🙂

  9. Yo soy un Guatemalteca! 🙂

    Some more beauty at Fuego going on!

    This is for Boris who is turning 54 today since Etna did not produce fireworks.

    • Sorry admin,the heading of the paper is “Repeated fracture and healing of silicic magma generate flow
      banding and earthquakes?”

      And it relates in this case to what? It would be a good thing if you explained that too 🙂
      /Admin

      • I see were you are going with this Geyser.
        But, alas no. The process described in that particular paper also show up on a GPS.
        It is though closer to the processes running in the SIFZ.

  10. And for those who enjoy a good geologic disaster movie.
    May I represent Norway and the mountain of Mannen that is sliding into a fjord (again).

    • I’ve tried to watch that a,couple of times, but like all movies of that type, they spend most if their effort in trying to get you to care about the characters in it.

      • Where would one get hold of a copy of this if one were in, say, South Carolina?

        I would love to watch it, as long as it is subtitled. I used to watch a lot of Japanese anime, so subtitles do not bother me much at all.

      • I stand corrected. There are just to many mountains in Norway dropping into fjords 🙂

        • Here is some decent background and some locations that may ALSO experience landslide tsunamis within the region. It is scary-as-hell looking, both the cinematic and scientific predictors (not to mention the REAL disasters from the past – also portrayed.)

          It is definitely going to ruin someone’s day in the future.

          http://bolgen.tight.no/

    • manifestations of non-volcanic unrests potentially preluding submarine eruptions and/or hydrothermal explosions.

      Do they mean ‘preluding’ or is that a misprint for ‘precluding’? It makes a rather significant difference to the meaning, I think

    • A bit of stark and thought-provoking reading there.
      I guess they are going to do a gas saturation study and measure the chlatrate density. Rapid gas expulsion is not so nice to be in the vicinity of. If nothing else it tend to stink up the place.

    • One for the Hobb’s report? Or a re-used image? I was a tad concerned to see this came from the institute for nuclear sciences…

      • No that is today ,probably a combination of increased steam release/degassing and weather conditions.Tremor since I last mentioned it has been elevated and erratic.
        note 27th March onwards on image below.

      • Personally, I’d be more concerned about the ‘Ltd’ after the organisation’s name. But that’s just my political prejudices

      • Do not worry Albert.
        GNS got the name back in the happy fifties when NZ wanted to build their own nukes and reactors. Their idea was to use volcanoes to extract the uranium and produce power for the concentration. The nuclear part stayed on long after they had let go of that particular daftness.
        GNS is the NZ version of IMO today and deal with all sorts of hazard containment of the natural version.
        NZ law makes almost all government agencies into ltd:s if I have understood things correctly, those of NZ persuasion should correct any fallacies in what I have written. 🙂

  11. Guys…your Mons thing got me thinking…since you guys like to debate ideas…would that location be perfect to create an oxygenated atmosphere well….get a nuke powered equipment equivelent of an open pit copper mine going and drive it to surface depths or below…the height would be enough to create an atmospheric well that could conceivably be supportive of uncontained living area. 😄 Hey when not reading volcano blogs I think big lol.

    /retrieved from the Netherworld – Lugh

    • You’d need to increase air pressure by a factor of 100. It scales as a factor of 2.7 every 20 kilometer (it would be a bit faster for an oxygen atmosphere though. That pit would need to be about 100 km deep. Just below the crust. Might as well roof it over and pressurise..

    • After doing a quick little thought experiment on that as a amateur. That would be quite problematic.

      If we are assuming we are trying to replicate earth’s atmosphere without a roof. And only such a goal would be worth the effort. We are going to create a bubble of warm moist air right below very cold air. The air would rapidly shoot up in the atmosphere and create a large thunderstorm right above your head while the colder Martian air will sink to the bottom of your pit. Since you would be in a large hole in the ground. The rain would flood the place.

      Since we are deep in the ground. The ground would be quite hot, When the water hit these hot rocks it would flash into steam. This steam would again rapidly rise up in the atmosphere and rain down again. Since not likely all the water ends up back in your hole. You would gradually lose your water that way.
      The steam explosions would however also undermine the sides of your hole. Triggering avalanches which will create the nice large waves as seen in the trailer posted earlier. Meanwhile the ambient temperature would gradually rise to rather dangerous levels. Or depending on the dimensions of your hole. Drop and freeze the water.

      Another issue would be that you are drilling extremely deep. Sure Mars may be death on the surface. But that does not mean there isn’t any activity going on at 100 km depth. Your little hole may collapse due to earthquakes. Fill up with volcanic gasses that are heavier than air. Or even cover the distance the magma couldn’t cover in the past millions of years.

      Eventually things would calm down though. And if there is still a hole left by then. It would be likely be filled with volcanic gasses or the martian atmosphere. Still requiring a space suit if you want to go there.

      • Fun as a thought experiment, isn’t it. The pressure from the side would collapse the pit. But the reduction of pressure below would induce crustal melt. The melt would find an easy way, and it becomes a battle between magma coming up and collapse from the side. I think you’d make a volcanic explosion, amplified by the simultaneous collapse – depending on width of the pit, perhaps 1 km3 of explosive ejecta. Olympus Lacus .

    • Interesting speculation but there are some holes in the argument you could drive Mons Olympus through. They explain some aspects, and what they propose is not entirely impossible. The nice thing about their model is that originally, the crustal dichotomy was exactly a north-south divide. That is a marginally stable configuration. The less nice bit is that you can apply their argument to the entire planet: the southern highlands stick out a lot above the rest and the same process would have pushed that towards the equator – not the pole.

      I am nuclear whether they propose that the entire planet changed rotation axis, or that the crust moved over the lithosphere. The first doesn’t work well for a solid planet: you would instead get large precession. The second is possible since the lithosphere at times had a large melt fraction, but would have reduced the crustal dichotomy as well which did not happen.

      I think this is worth looking into but it needs more work to be convincing. At the moment I am not convinced.

      • What part does the mass of Mars play in this instability.Does its lack of gravity compared to earth, upset the balance of the planet before it can evolve into a stable dynamic entity like earth,but keeps it from being completely dead like the earth’s moon.It can never develop an atmosphere,stable crust etc.It seems earth is in more of a goldilocks zone than distance from the sun,it seems to be the ideal mass?

  12. Yes imagine if fyou were trying to measure inflation(particularly from a shallow intrusion)in the crater or flank of a stratovolcano from a GPS located 7km away?

      • You are quite correct Ian F, KISA is obviously not KIST, that is on another network…
        I think I need a beer or five.

        @Geyser:
        Ideally you want one dead on top, 3 in a ring about 5 to 10 km out and a second ring of 3 that are 30 to 50 km out.
        That would give you good precision on the local scale, and the ones further away would cover for obvious errors, and take over when the close ones go down during an eruption.
        Then you take that local network and grid it against other local networks to catch the effects of for instance a large arsed mantleplume like in Iceland.

      • Seems to be 500meters lower in elevation and below a steep drop of on the flank of the rim,base of and old partial flank collapse or point or area that’s uplifted in Tha past?

      • Thanks for that correction Ian F. I feel no embarrassment at misreading a GPS plot (though I hope I’m learning), but I do like to think I can read a map!

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