Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geology and Geophysics

Document Type



Aside from Earth, Mars is the most well-explored planetary body in our solar system. Much has been learned about its geologic past including a history of volcanism, ice ages, and potentially long-lasting liquid water. Much of this knowledge of Mars comes from remote observations of the surface and atmosphere from Mars-orbiting satellites. Such remote observations remain the only way to examine the entirety of Mars’ surface as rovers and landers can only examine small areas. The chapters of this work cover three projects that explore the surface of Mars through a variety of remote sensing methods.

In chapter 1, Gamma-ray spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy are used to assess the changes in what may have been an evolving volcanic system in Thaumasia Planum, Mars. The geochemical changes within this region are consistent with models for martian mantle evolution rather than other formation hypotheses. In Chapter 2, global trends in soil geochemistry and surface dust cover are examined, looking for distinct geochemical trends on either side of the martian topographic dichotomy. The volatile chemistry of soils on either side of this dichotomy are found to deviate from one another and may indicate much greater aqueous interaction in the southern highlands. In Chapter 3, a novel algorithm is presented that provides an automated tool for location and measuring boulders on the martian surface, called the Martian Boulder Automatic Recognition System or MBARS. This tool enables rapid analysis of boulder populations, assisting widespread investigation of surface processes.

These chapters display the utility of a wide range of remote sensing methods as well as the challenges and rewards that come from careful combination of multiple remote sensing methods. Remote observations remain the most productive avenue to study large-scale processes on Mars due to the relative ease of collection and large data volume. Even beyond Mars, remote observations are an important part of planetary exploration where in-situ access can be prohibitively expensive or even dangerous. The continued analysis of remote data, application of new techniques, and development of new tools for remote analysis are crucially important for the advancement of planetary science and exploration.



Committee Chair

Karunatillake, Suniti