June 20, 2012
Professor Baker will present two talks, "Megafloods on Earth, Mars, and Beyond" and "Geological History of Water on an Earth-like Planet," at various European universities during October and November 2012. Brief summaries of Baker's topics are provided below.
Megafloods For more than 40 years, Baker has been studying the most spectacular and immense flood phenomena that are currently known to occur anywhere in the solar system. The immense megafloods of the last Ice Age created bizarre landscapes, like the Channeled Scabland, and altered the circulation of the oceans, thereby changing Earth's climate. More surprising was the discovery that much larger megafloods occurred billions of years ago on the planet Mars.
The Martian megafloods formed temporary bodies of water on that planet, even generating a kind of ocean that facilitated environmental conditions on Mars that may have been like those of an ice age on Earth. These discoveries are showing that Mars, like Earth, had a long-term cycle of water circulation that produced a habitable planet, and these are exactly the kinds of processes to seek out in the newly initiated search for the other habitable planets of the universe.
Geological Histories of Earth and Mars Recent advances in astronomy hold the prospect of discovery of a great many Earth-like planets, rich in both water and possible habitats for life, thereby greatly expanding from the current sample of one. Nevertheless, until it proves possible to do geology for these numerous potential exo-Earths, we can greatly advance the geological science of Earth-like planets by study of Mars.
The early geological histories of both Mars and Earth are closely tied to the role of water, extending from the nature of planetary accretion to the origin of a physically coupled atmosphere and ocean, the prospects for initiating plate tectonics, and historical records of punctuated greenhouse-to-icehouse climatic transitions. Recent discoveries from Mars missions reveal the extensive role of water in generating sedimentary rocks, active and relict glacial and periglacial features, aqueous weathering products (clay minerals and sulfates), alluvial fans and deltas, the extensive development of paleolakes, and even a probable, though transient, ocean.
Congratulations, Vic, on this outstanding honor and recognition by the Geological Society of America!