Global Mars in colour

Traces of Glacial Activity Discovered on Mars

Mars was once eerily similar to Earth. But was it home to life?


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures undeniable evidence of Mars’ past – revealing a planet once warm, wet, and possibly teeming with glacial periods. Not long ago, we wrote about a curious surface feature discovered on the red planet that further suggests Mars was once teeming with water.

From Rivers to Ice: Decoding Mars’ Surface

Once teeming with a rich atmosphere and warm climates where waters freely coursed, Mars stands as a testament to time’s transformative power. The red planet’s features – like river channels, lakebeds, and alluvial deposits – whisper tales of a lush, watery past.

Yet, around 4 billion years ago, Mars’ atmosphere began thinning, temperatures plummeted, and the planet transformed into the cold, arid landscape we recognize today. Within this dramatic climate shift, images from the NASA MRO suggest Mars likely experienced both glacial and interglacial epochs.

Glacial Footprints Beyond Polar Zones

Landmarks mirroring Earth’s glacial retreats decorate Mars’ surface, hinting at the planet’s icy periods. While Martian surface ice primarily clusters around polar caps, these glacial marks appear far beyond, in its non-polar regions. Thanks to the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the MRO, these features were vividly captured.


Spanning 5 km (3 mi) across, the black-and-white image showcases linear ridges, exposed rocky debris, and infillings in neighboring craters and valleys. Earth’s glaciers too, with their capability to hoist rocks and soil, carve out similar imprints over thousands of years. By studying these Martian patterns, scientists unravel the mysteries of ancient ice flows.

Understanding the Climate Shifts

Mars’ climatic oscillations, swinging between cooling and warming periods, likely aligned with its axial tilt variations. During colder spells, glaciers expanded, hoovering up landscape debris, only to retreat during warmer intervals due to melting and sublimation. Over eons, these processes left concentrated minerals and rocks along expansive ridges, and deposited material in depression areas.

Universe Today points to Mars’ persistently dynamic climate, which, despite enduring transformative changes, remains a dominant feature. The rapid cooling of Mars’ core approximately 4 billion years ago led to the cessation of its global magnetic field, allowing solar winds to strip its dense atmosphere. This cooling event marked the beginning of Mars’ descent into the frigid, dry world we witness now.


Mars’ Evolution

Interestingly, this evolution also served as Mars’ saving grace, preserving the remnants of its warmer, wetter era. The absence of significant weathering and erosion, given the lack of a dense atmosphere and water cycle, safeguarded its features – solidifying evidence of a time when glaciers thrived even beyond its polar boundaries.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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