ERC Oceanid

The quest for oceanic sediments within the Ancient Martian sedimentary record

ERC-Consolidator Grant

Coordinator : Cathy Quantin-Nataf


Martian missions have progressively revealed that Mars abounds in evidence of a complete ancient hydrological system conducive to the emergence of life. If this is the case, there is every reason to believe that Mars was home to a hemispheric ocean covering the northern lowlands. This hypothesis is as old as Mars exploration itself, but it has been challenged several times over the last two decades. The existence of a primitive Martian ocean remains one of the planet’s most controversial and unresolved questions.

Recent discoveries are reopening this question, not least by highlighting that the main oceanic activity may be older than previously thought, with associated deposits partially exhumed, and that two rovers (Mars2020/NASA arriving in 2021 and ExoMars/ESA-Roskosmos to be launched in 2022) have landing sites in the oldest terrain ever explored on Mars, featuring sediments possibly linked to an oceanic system.

To bring the debate to a close, it is necessary to identify ancient deposits of similar age and composition, whose global distribution is consistent with a possible ocean level. But these clues are small-scale exposures that can only be resolved by high-resolution orbital data (>10 TB of data) or by in situ exploration preventing a direct link with the global context. Oceanid proposes to meet this challenge by investigating at different scales: global, mesoscale and microscale, using complementary data sets (orbital, in situ and experimental data). Oceanid will also rely on an innovative methodology for orbital data mining: geological object recognition using artificial intelligence, erosion/deposition evolution models, clustering using multi-type data, etc.

Oceanid’s objectives are to describe the Martian sediments accumulated below ocean level, to establish a detailed chronology of primitive events, to contextualize the Mars2020 and ExoMars missions within the ancient global hydrological system, and to correlate the oceanic context, the transient water cycle and the mineralogy observed both from orbit and in situ.

Link to the press release