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Micro-relief development in polygonal patterned ground in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017


Polygonal patterned ground in polar regions of both Earth and Mars has received considerable attention. In comparison with the size, shape, and arrangement of the polygons, the diverse micro-relief and topography (termed here simply “relief”) of polygonal patterned ground have been understudied. And yet, the relief reflects important conditions and processes occurring directly below the ground surface, and it can be observed readily in the field and through remote sensing. Herein, we describe the relief characteristic of the simplest and relatively young form of patterned ground in the Dry Valleys of Antarctic. We also develop a numerical model to examine the generation of relief due to subsurface material being shouldered aside contraction cracks by incremental sand wedges growth, and to down-slope creep of loose granular material on the surface. We model the longterm subsurface deformation of ice-cemented permafrost as a non-linear viscous material. Our modeling is guided and validated using decades of field measurements of surface displacements of the permafrost and relief. This work has implications for assessing the activity of surfaces on Earth and Mars, and much larger scale potential manifestations of incremental wedging in icy material, namely the distinct paired ridges on Europa.

Research Article
University of Washington

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