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Giant Supervolcanoes Believed to Have Rocked Mars

Update Date: Oct 02, 2013 02:33 PM EDT
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New research suggests that the surface of ancient Mars may have been the site where many giant super volcanoes occurred naturally over time, unleashing a massive eruption that dramatically altered the appearance of the Red Planet.

These markers could provide the footprints of the cataclysmic events have been discovered at several sites in the Martian northern highlands, according to the findings published in this week's Nature journal

Scientists believe they were left behind by massive volcanic explosions that blasted ash and lava out of the planet's surface more than three billion years ago.

"These [Martian supervolcanoes] are very explosive, they don't build up big mountains of lava flows and they don't have the same topographic profiles," said Dr Joe Michalski who is affiliated to the Natural History Museum in London, and the Planetary Institute in Tucson, Arizona. "Maybe we've been looking for the shield type all this time, and maybe for the most ancient history, we should be looking for the explosive type."

Supervolcano is an informal term to describe a colossal eruptive event that expels in excess of a 1,000 cu km of rock and ash.

"Scientists know the planet must have been more active in its deep past, in its first billion years. But we've always struggled to find evidence for these early volcanoes. The supervolcanoes we report in Nature may solve this puzzle," said Dr Michalski, who is affiliated to the Natural History Museum in London, and the Planetary Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Supervolcano eruptions are thousands of times stronger than those of ordinary volcanoes, and powerful enough to alter global climate and cause mass extinctions.

They have occurred in Earth's past, and a plugged supervolcano is said to be simmering beneath Yellowstone National Park in the UK today.

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