Using the viscoelastic relaxation of large impact craters to study the thermal history of Mars.
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We simulate the long-term deformation of Martian craters and investigate the role of lower crustal flow in the evolution of surface and subsurface topography. Using the finite element method and a viscoelastic rheological model, we model the deformation of more than 30 large craters and Quasi-Circular Depressions (QCDs), in the diameter range of ∼200–500 km, in both the Northern Lowlands and Southern Highlands. We determine the most appropriate background heat fluxes that produce the current topography beneath the impacts at the crust–mantle boundary (ranges from 40 to ∼90 mW m−2). Our study shows that a higher background heat flux leads to more relaxation at the surface and subsurface. By applying various viscous creep parameters for hydrous and anhydrous rheologies, we demonstrate that Mars's interior is wet to a certain degree, which is consistent with other estimates. Since craters and QCDs are distributed fairly equally on the surface of the Red Planet, this study provides a less regionally biased picture of the thermal history of early Mars than in previous studies. Based on our results, the ancient average background heat flux in the Northern Lowlands was higher than that of the Southern Highlands, which could indicate that whatever process formed the crustal dichotomy had a thermal signature at least through the middle Noachian.