A new study shows more evidence that there is liquid water on Mars

Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered a breakthrough in proving that there is liquid water on the planet.
Brittney Grimes
Martian landscape with lakes, water.
Martian landscape with lakes, water.


There’s been a new study that shows liquid water may exist on Mars. According to this new evidence, there is a possibility of liquid water below the planet's surface.

Researchers discovered that liquid water exists beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars. The results were revealed in Nature Astronomy, proving that data other than radar could pinpoint when and where this water existed.

“The combination of the new topographic evidence, our computer model results, and the radar data make it much more likely that at least one area of subglacial liquid water exists on Mars today,” said Neil Arnold, professor at Cambridge Scott Polar Research Institute, who led the study.

Similar ice caps at the poles

Both Earth and Mars have thick water ice caps at both poles; however, unlike Earth, the polar ice caps on Mars have been thought to have frozen to their beds recently due to the cold climate. In 2018, this notion was challenged with evidence from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite, with its ice-penetrating radar called MARSIS, which can see through Mars’ ice cap.

Previous studies suggested other types of dry material could produce similar reflecting traits if they exist beneath the ice cap of Mars. Since it’s cold on the planet, liquid water needs to have heat coming from somewhere, such as geothermal heat from the planet itself.

Research team

The team, which included researchers from the University of Sheffield, the University of Nantes, University College, Dublin, and the Open University and the University of Cambridge, used different techniques to analyze research from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor satellite. This was used to examine the topography of Mars’ south ice cap.

The researchers tested if the smooth rising and falling of the ice on the surface could be explained as being liquid water. They ran computer model simulations of the ice flow to make it parallel to conditions on Mars.

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The team then placed a patch of reduced bed friction in the imitated ice sheet bed where water, if present at the site, would allow the ice to move.

They discovered similarities between the model-produced topographic movement and the spacecraft observations, suggesting an accumulation of liquid beneath Mar’s south ice cap.

This suggests that volcanic activity occurred recently in the subsurface of Mars so that it would have the appropriate geothermal heating needed so the water would remain in a liquid state.

New evidence

“The quality of data coming back from Mars, from orbital satellites as well as from the landers, is such that we can use it [to] answer really difficult questions about conditions on, and even under the planet’s surface, using the same techniques we also use on Earth,” said Arnold. “It’s exciting to use these techniques to find out things about planets other than our own.”

This is a new insight into Mars having liquid water beneath its surface. “Mars must still be geothermally active in order to keep the water beneath the ice cap liquid,” Arnold stated.

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