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Drastic Climate Change Carved Up Mars, and May Still Be Happening

Feb 02, 2015 04:45 PM EST

Climate change isn't an exclusively Earth-side affair. New analyses of gulley patterning carved into the sides of some of Mars' largest impact craters has revealed that the Red Planet underwent many instances of severe climate shifting, including several ice ages, within the last two million years.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Icarus, which details how researchers assessed images of hundreds of gully-like features found on the walls of impact craters located along the mid-latitudes of Mars.

"These recent climate cycles have been predicted by computer models, but have not been documented with widespread geological evidence until now," lead study author, Jay Dickson, said in a recent statement. "This research shows that gullies have been episodic across the entire southern hemisphere, a distribution that is required for this to be a signal of global climate change."

Despite what popular media might lead you to believe, climate change is not an exclusively unnatural occurrence. The NOAA and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have revealed in past studies that the drastic climate changes Earth may be experiencing right now is largely driven by natural processes such as El Niño and La Niña events. The concern, rather, is that humanity's influence may be exacerbating or accelerating this change in such a way that important ecosystems are unable to adapt quickly enough. It has thus been demanded that world powers take action to mitigate this harmful influence.

Of course, in the case of Mars, there was no human influence to speak of, and thanks to its timeless dusty plains, we now have an excellent record of natural change on our hands. (Scroll to read on...)

Brown University researchers recently looked at detailed images taken by NASA's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) of 479 gullies in Mars' southern hemisphere. These systems appear to be made from the erosion of crater walls, where glaciers millions of years ago melted and shifted in the wake of massive temperature shifts.

Amazingly, no glaciers can be found there today, with Mars' conditions being largely dry save for its massive polar ice caps. In all, the researchers found conclusive evidence that at least two ice ages (likely more) occurred within the last two million years.

What's more, the processes that led to and from the ages could still be going on, if at a very slow and difficult-to-notice rate. That adds to recent evidence that the Red Planet's subsurface and atmosphere are also still active.

"I think people have this idea of Mars as an inactive place, that it is now as it has been for billions of years," added geologist James Head. "But it seems likely that climate cycles and global climate change are still occurring."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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