For those hoping to one day escape climate change on Earth before the polar ice caps melt and cover major cities with water, you can cross Mars off of your list of potential sanctuary planets. New videos from the Red Planet show white ice caps melting and that’s making some folks blue … although not at NASA.
“This animation shows where a section of the slope at right has collapsed since three Mars-years ago and deposited a field of ice blocks."
Planetary geologist Alfred McEwen is referring to a HiRise image from Mars released on January 31, 2020. HiRise is the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which is taking extremely high resolution photographs -- 0.3 m/pixel (about 1 foot). This is the camera which has picked up both the Mars Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. The “animation” (watch it here) switches between two photographs of the same spot – one taken on December 25, 2019, and the other three Martian years (2,61 days or 5.6 Earth years) ago.
The images are from the Martian north pole and show a solid ice cap 5.6 years ago and a pile of ice block rubble today. Ice falling off of the ice cap can’t be good news … it’s terrible news in Antarctica, where the melting of the so-called Doomsday Glacier is quickly heading it to its own collapse, the global rising of the oceans and all of the negative consequences that will bring. Is Mars headed for the same fate … before humans can got here and cause it themselves?
"In contrast to shrinking ice caps on Earth, climate change is not to blame on Mars. This mesa in this cutout is shrinking over time as the frozen carbon dioxide turns to vapor. Pits in this sheet of dry ice (that give the deposit an appearance resembling Swiss cheese) are enlarging over time, exposing an older surface below that is likely made up of water ice."
Well, that’s a relief … in a good news/bad kind of way. More carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere is not necessarily good news, but water ice closer to or on the surface is good news for human explorers looking for water. On the other hand, melting ice also causes avalanches – something the HiRise also picked up at the Marian north pole last year. Again, NASA downplayed it as something expected to happen every Martian year when the sun hits the Martian cliffs, melting the ice and sending blocks crashing down steep slopes, eventually kicking up dust, not snow.
Nothing to worry about, says NASA. Go back to thinking about the problems that will be created AFTER humans settle to Mars.