Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Molly Swearingen makes this connection here…

The news article, “How the world’s saltiest pond gets its salt,” was posted on February 7, 2013 under the News and Events section of Browns University’s website. This article features a new discovery in the unique hydrology and water supply of a pond giving it salt concentration and allowing it to exist in the extreme cold and dry environment of the McMurdo Dry Valley in Antarctica. To help better understand the hydrology of this unique pond 16,000 photos were taken within 2 months to monitor the pond and determine the sources of water and salt feeding into it. The photographs were then correlated with data taken from measurements on and around the site. After comparing the photos to ground based measurements they found that a pulse of fresh water from snowmelt entered the pond after the daily peaks in temperature. A second source of water and also salt was observed flowing through a small channel of loose sediment on days where the relative humidity spiked. This find shows that the original theory that the salt in the pond was from ground water, was incorrect and the salt water flowing into the pond came from a process called deliquence where the moisture in the air is absorbed by the salt in the soil. Salty soils and ridges like the ones formed by the salt water flowing out of the soil have been found on Mars (Davila, Duport, Melchiorri, & Janchen, 2010). This study finds that it is most probable that the high salt concentration was not coming from the ground water under the pond by using the water balance equation, however the researchers did not mention the methods for estimating flows other than the visual and meteorological data (Hayashi & Kamp, 2007).

The cost of transporting a drill to Mars currently makes it infeasible to test for life and water below the surface of the planet. If water is discovered on surface of Mars in there is a chance that we can find life on Mars without having to drill down below the ice layer (Space.com, 2011). From an economic standpoint it makes sense to look for conditions where water may exist on the surface of Mars. This new evidence of Mars having similar hydrology to the area feeding into Don Juan allows future trips to Mars to be able to target areas like Don Juan in their search for life and water. This discovery doesn’t only impact where we might find water on Mars it also improves our understanding of hydrology and the natural movement of water on earth.

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Figure 1: Don Juan and Time Lapse Camera

Works Cited

Davila, A., Duport, L. G., Melchiorri, R., & Janchen, J. (2010). Hygroscopic Salts and the Potential for Life on Mars. ASTROBIOLOGY.

Hayashi, M., & Kamp, G. v. (2007). Water Level Changes in Ponds and Lakes: The Hydrological Process. Elsevier Inc.

Space.com. (2011, 08 04). Water on Mars: Scientists find strongest evidence yet. Retrieved 04 15, 2013, from Mother Nature Network: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/space/stories/water-on-mars-scientists-find-strongest-evidence-yet

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