Drainage network development in the Keanakāko‘i tephra, Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i: Implications for fluvial erosion and valley network formation on early Mars

Robert A. Craddock, Alan D. Howard, Rossman P. Irwin III, Stephen Tooth, Rebecca M. E. Williams, Pao-shin Chu

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20 Citations (SciVal)


A number of studies have attempted to characterize Martian valley and channel networks. To date, however, little attention has been paid to the role of lithology, which could influence the rate of incision, morphology, and hydrology as well as the characteristics of transported materials. Here, we present an analysis of the physical and hydrologic characteristics of drainage networks (gullies and channels) that have incised the Keanakāko‘i tephra, a basaltic pyroclastic deposit that occurs mainly in the summit area of Kīlauea Volcano and in the adjoining Ka‘ū Desert, Hawai‘i. The Keanakāko‘i tephra is up to ∼10 m meters thick and largely devoid of vegetation, making it a good analog for the Martian surface. Although the scales are different, the Keanakāko‘i drainage networks suggest that several typical morphologic characteristics of Martian valley networks may be controlled by lithology in combination with ephemeral flood characteristics. Many gully headwalls and knickpoints within the drainage networks are amphitheater shaped, which results from strong-over-weak stratigraphy. Beds of fine ash, commonly bearing accretionary lapilli (pisolites), are more resistant to erosion than the interbedded, coarser weakly consolidated and friable tephra layers. Because the banks of the gullies and channels are easily eroded widths vary downslope, similar to Martian valley networks that have been characterized as “degraded.” The floors of the gullies and channels tend to be low-relief with few prominent bed forms, reflecting the large proportion of sediment transported as bed load in high-energy but short-lived flood events. We calculate that the average flow velocities within the drainage networks are typically <10 cm/s, occurring during floods that probably last less than an hour. Analyses of sediment deposits that have overlain lava flows of known ages suggest that these ephemeral flood events are associated with large cold core winter cyclones, known locally as ‘kona storms’, that are capable of generating precipitation at rates >1 m/24 h. Given some recent modeling of the early Martian climate, our observations imply that rainfall on early Mars could also be associated with large intense events and that Martian valley network formation may be related to similar cyclonic storms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberE08009
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


  • Mars
  • drainage networks
  • tephra
  • valley networks


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