Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Discrete Element Modelling of Pit Crater Formation on Mars

Version 1 : Received: 31 May 2021 / Approved: 2 June 2021 / Online: 2 June 2021 (12:27:04 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Hardy, S. Discrete Element Modelling of Pit Crater Formation on Mars. Geosciences 2021, 11, 268. Hardy, S. Discrete Element Modelling of Pit Crater Formation on Mars. Geosciences 2021, 11, 268.


Pit craters, and pit crater chains, are now recognised as being an important part of the surface morphology and structure of many planetary bodies, and are particularly remarkable on Mars. Pit craters do not possess the elevated rims, ejecta deposits, or other features that are typically associated with impact craters. They are thought to arise from the drainage/collapse of a relatively weak surficial material into an open (or widening) void in a much stronger material below. The creation of such voids has been suggested to be due to extensional fracturing/dilational faulting, shallow dike intrusion, lava tube collapse amongst other hypotheses. These craters have a very distinctive expression, often presenting funnel, cone, or bowl-shaped geometries. Analogue models of pit crater formation provide a map-view picture of their initiation and evolution but give little insight into their internal structure or geometry, but produce pits that typically have steep, nearly conical cross sections. Numerical modelling studies of their formation have been limited and have produced some quite interesting, but nonetheless puzzling, results whereby the simulated pit craters had generally convex (steepening downward) slope profiles with no distinct rim; quite unlike many of those observed on Earth or on Mars. To address these issues, I present here a high-resolution, 2D discrete element model of weak cover (regolith) collapse into either a static or a widening underlying void. I use frictional and frictional-cohesive discrete elements to represent a range of probable cover rheologies. Under Martian gravitational conditions, frictional-cohesive and frictional materials produce cone, bowl and scoop-shaped pit craters. For a given cover thickness, the specific crater shape depends on the amount of underlying void space created for drainage. When void space is small relative to cover thickness, craters have bowl or scoop-shaped geometries. In contrast, when void space is large relative to cover thickness, craters have cone-shaped geometries with essentially planar (nearing angle of repose) slope profiles. Frictional-cohesive materials exhibit more distinct rims than simple frictional materials and thus may reveal some stratigraphic layering on the pit crater walls. In the limit, when drainage from the overlying cover is insufficient to fill the underlying void, ´skylights´ into the deeper structure are created. Implications of these results for the interpretation of pit craters on Earth, Mars, other planets and moons are discussed.


Mars; Tectonics; Morphology


Environmental and Earth Sciences, Atmospheric Science and Meteorology

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