"In a series of papers published between 1923 and 1932, J Harlen Bretz described an enormous plexus of proglacial stream channels eroded into the loess and basalt of the Columbia Plateau, eastern Washington. He argued that this region, which he called the Channeled Scablands, was the product of a cataclysmic flood, which he called the Spokane flood. Considering the Nature and vehemence of the opposition to his hypothesis, which was considered outrageous, its eventual scientific verification constitutes one of the most fascinating episodes in the history of modern science."
Victor R. Baker, 1978

In Baker's 1978 paper, he highlights the relationship between the flood morphology of the channeled scablands and the flood channels on Mars. In both cases, cataclysmic floods scoured the landscape, producing deeply incised river valleys, streamlined hills, and other indicative erosional features.
The recent discovery of columnar jointing in Martes Valles, Mars (Milazzo et al., 2009) has strengthened the relationship between the Channeled Scablands, where jointing is readily observable in the Columbia basalts, and our terrestrial neighbor.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Scablands Engage

Hey, I'm David Kutai Weiss, an LPSA intern from the College of Charleston and one of the (aspiring) field geologists in the program.  We’re leaving early Sunday for Washington, and I'm extremely excited to travel to the Channeled Scablands this week for a number of reasons…

Reason Number One:

Basalt columns…

On Earth…

Basalt Columns in Porto Santo Island (Wikipedia)

And on Mars…

Basalt columns on the inside of an impact crater on Mars.  These columns were found using data from the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter.

The basalt columns' stunning hexagonal shape has puzzled scientists for hundreds of years, and although we have a better understanding of their formation today, the columns remain fascinating to study for scientists (like myself).

In areas, the Scablands exhibit pristine basalt columns, which is my primary interest on the trip because it directly relates to my NASA research project.  With much help from my fellow interns, I will be acquiring measurements of the physical properties of these columns (height, width, etc) and relating them to basalt columns recently discovered on Mars with the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  By taking measurement and aerial photos (Thanks to Neil and Josh), I will be able to use these columns to plot the relationship between stria (A physical byproduct of the basalt cooling process) heights and column width.  I can then compare this relationship with the measurements I am currently taking from the HiRISE camera to infer stria heights on Mars.  By knowing these physical properties of the basalt columns on Mars, we can derive knowledge of the thermal evolution of these columns— how long they took to cool, to what extent water played a role in their cooling, and the general physical environment they were emplaced in!

That is a summation of my research project this summer, so as you can imagine, traveling to the scablands is an integral part of my research.  Additionally, as an outdoorsman and (aspiring) field geologist, (Reason Number Two) I’m just happy to get outdoors!  It is a great excuse to bang rocks with a rock hammer, use my hand-lens an unhealthy amount, and climb lots of rocks.  This is going to be a great learning experience with great company, as our mentors and interns are all top-notch!

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