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Scientists Use Wyoming Glaciers As A Tool To Study The Martian Climate

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High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment
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University of Arizona

Rock-covered glaciers in Wyoming are helping scientists understand the glaciers on Mars.

University of Arizona researcher Tyler Meng and his team want to know how water has moved across the red planet over time.

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Credit Tyler Meng / University of Arizona
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University of Arizona
Sulphur Creek Rock Glacier in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming. The red lines show the locations where Meng and his team have collected radar data.

"At the polar latitudes, ice is actually stable at the surface, so that's why we get a more traditional ice cap at the north and south pole," he said. "But the big question is where the rest of the water is on Mars and where it went or where it's being trapped today."

Scientists first discovered glaciers on Mars, mostly in the mid-latitude regions, using radar images. They are buried beneath debris, which prevents the ice from melting like it normally would on the surface.

That's also the case for some glaciers in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming. As the Earth cycled through different ice ages, different layers of rock and ice formed on Wyoming's glaciers. Meng and his team use radar to identify those layers.

"We're trying to understand which of those are internal debris layers and what that says about the past ice ages," he said.

By modeling Wyoming's glaciers, Meng said scientists can link their structure to the past climate on Earth. In the future, they plan to use the same process to study the history of the Martian climate.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.

Ashley is a PhD student in Astronomy and Physics at UW. She loves to communicate science and does so with WPM, on the Astrobites blog, and through outreach events. She was born in Colorado and got her BS in Engineering Physics at Colorado School of Mines. Ashley loves hiking and backpacking during Wyoming days and the clear starry skies at night!
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