The major dynamic forces shaping the surfaces, crusts, and lithospheres of planets are represented by geological processes (Figures 1.1–1.6) which are linked to interaction with the atmosphere (e.g., eolian, polar), with the hydrosphere (e.g., fluvial, lacustrine), with the cryosphere (e.g., glacial and periglacial), or with the crust, lithosphere, and interior (e.g., tectonism and volcanism). Interaction with the planetary external environment also occurs, as in the case of impact cratering processes. Geological processes vary in relative importance in space and time; for example, impact cratering was a key process in forming and shaping planetary crusts in the first one-quarter of Solar System history, but its global influence has waned considerably since that time. Volcanic activity is a reflection of the thermal evolution of the planet, and varies accordingly in abundance and style.
The stratigraphic record of a planet represents the products or deposits of these geological processes and how they are arranged relative to one another. The geological history of a planet can be reconstructed from an understanding of the details of this stratigraphic record. On Mars, the geological history has been reconstructed using the global Viking image data set to delineate geological units (e.g., Greeley and Guest, 1987; Tanaka and Scott, 1987; Tanaka et al., 1992), and superposition and cross-cutting relationships to establish their relative ages, with superposed impact crater abundance tied to an absolute chronology (e.g., Hartmann and Neukum, 2001).