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Copyright © 2020 The Authors, In explaining extensive evidence for past liquid water, the debate on whether Mars was primarily warm and wet or cold and arid 4 billion years (Ga) ago has continued for decades. The Sun’s luminosity was ~30% lower 4 Ga ago; thus, most martian climate models struggle to elevate the mean surface temperature past the melting point of water. Basal melting of ice sheets may help resolve that paradox. We modeled the thermophysical evolution of ice and estimate the geothermal heat flux required to produce meltwater on a cold, arid Mars. We then analyzed geophysical and geochemical data, showing that basal melting would have been feasible on Mars 4 Ga ago. If Mars were warm and wet 4 Ga ago, then the geothermal flux would have even sustained hydrothermal activity. Regardless of the actual nature of the ancient martian climate, the subsurface would have been the most habitable region on Mars.

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Science Advances