Not flowing water on Mars but flowing Sand

Dark features that were believed to be evidence for significant liquid water flowing on Mars have now been identified as granular flows, where sand and dust move rather than liquid water.

The terminal end of the RSL slopes, said Dundas, are identical to the slopes of sand dunes where movement is caused by dry granular flows. Water almost certainly is not responsible for this behavior, which would require the volume of liquid to correspond to the length of slope available, producing more liquid on longer slopes. Instead, the 151 RSL examined by the study authors all end on similar slopes despite very different lengths. Additionally, said the scientists, water is unlikely to be produced only near the tops of slopes at these angles and if it were, it should be able to flow onto lower slopes.

Above – This HiRISE image cutout shows Recurring Slope Lineae in Tivat crater on Mars in enhanced color. The narrow, dark flows descend downhill (towards the upper left). Analysis shows that the flows all end at approximately the same slope, which is similar to the angle of repose for sand.​​​​​​​Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS. Public domain.​​​​​

This new research finds that these RSL features are flows of granular material and thus, align with the long-standing hypothesis that the surface of Mars lacks flowing water. Small amounts of water could still be involved in their initiation in some fashion, as hydrated minerals have been detected at some RSL locations. The authors conclude that liquid on present-day Mars may be limited to traces of dissolved moisture from the atmosphere and thin films of water.

Nature Geoscience – Granular flows at recurring slope lineae on Mars indicate a limited role for liquid water