Potential desiccation cracks on Mars: A synthesis from modeling, analogue-field studies, and global observations

M. R. El-Maarry, W. Watters, N. K. McKeown, J. Carter, E. Noe Dobrea, J. L. Bishop, A. Pommerol, N. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Potential desiccation polygons (PDPs) are polygonal surface patterns that are a common feature in Noachian-to-Hesperian-aged phyllosilicate- and chloride-bearing terrains and have been observed with size scales that range from cm-wide (by current rovers) to 10s of meters-wide. The global distribution of PDPs shows that they share certain traits in terms of morphology and geologic setting that can aid identification and distinction from fracturing patterns caused by other processes. They are mostly associated with sedimentary deposits that display spectral evidence for the presence of Fe/Mg smectites, Al-rich smectites or less commonly kaolinites, carbonates, and sulfates. In addition, PDPs may indicate paleolacustrine environments, which are of high interest for planetary exploration, and their presence implies that the fractured units are rich in smectite minerals that may have been deposited in a standing body of water. A collective synthesis with new data, particularly from the HiRISE camera suggests that desiccation cracks may be more common on the surface of Mars than previously thought. A review of terrestrial research on desiccation processes with emphasis on the theoretical background, field studies, and modeling constraints is presented here as well and shown to be consistent with and relevant to certain polygonal patterns on Mars.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)248-268
Number of pages21
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • Geological processes
  • Mars
  • Mars, climate
  • Mars, surface


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