for National Geographic News
A trio of volcanoes on Mars may have been created by a similar geologic process to the one that formed the Hawaiian Islands, a new study says.
The observations also suggest that the three Martian volcanoes might not be extinct.
If sufficiently large eruptions do eventually occur, they could spew enough heat-trapping carbon dioxide and water into the atmosphere to warm the red planet up from its current cold, dry state—at least for a little while.
Those are the findings of a research team led by Jacob Bleacher of Arizona State University and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The researchers traced the flow of molten rock under three large Martian volcanoes in the Tharsis Montes mountain range, partly by comparing their surface features to those found on Hawaiian volcanoes.
They discovered that the same basic process formed the mountains but that it worked in very different ways because of each planet's unique geology.
"On Earth the Hawaiian Islands were built from volcanoes that erupted as the Earth's crust slid over a hot spot—a plume of rising magma," Bleacher said in a press release.
"Our research raises the possibility that the opposite happens on Mars—a plume might move beneath stationary crust."
The results appeared in the September 19 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets.
Tharsis Montes contains three large shield volcanoes—Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Ascraeus Mons—in a northeast-trending chain across the Tharsis rise on Mars.
(Related: "Volcanic Explosion on Mars Created Weird Formation" [May 3, 2007].)
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