Pit crater chains are common topographic features on Mars and several other planetary bodies, and a wide range of mechanisms has been proposed for their origin. Two rifting-related seismic events in 1975–1976 and 1978 along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge near the northern coast of Iceland, associated with the Krafla volcanic eruptions to the south, produced an array of pit chains in unconsolidated sediments overlying Holocene basalt flows. Fault scarps and extension fractures in basaltic lava flows are traceable laterally into overlying unconsolidated fluvial deposits, revealing contrasting deformation styles in the two mechanical layers. Map-scale structures in basalt with little or no sedimentary cover include (1) fault scarps, (2) extension fractures and fracture swarms, (3) faulted monoclines, (4) widened fractures with caverns, and (5) localized circular or elongate collapse pits. Where unconsolidated fluvial sand and gravel deposits >3 m thick cover the basaltic lava flows, structural geomorphic features are dominated by (1) grabens bounded by normal faults with ∼1 m displacement, (2) cone- to bowl-shaped pit craters with depths up to 2.8 m, and (3) elongate troughs. Formation of these structures in fluvial sediment was triggered by reactivation of faults and extension fractures in the underlying basalt. Pit craters are readily explained by downward “draining” of poorly consolidated material into subterranean cavities produced by fault and extension fracture dilation in underlying cohesive material (basalt). High-resolution imagery on Mars shows geomorphic patterns that are directly analogous to these Icelandic pit chains, suggesting similar processes have occurred on Mars.
- Received 1 September 2010.
- Revision received 10 November 2010.
- Accepted 29 November 2010.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America