Deuteronilus Mensae, first defined as an albedo feature at lat 35.0 deg N., long 5.0 deg E., by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and International Astronomical Union (IAU) nomenclature, is a gradational zone along the dichotomy boundary in the northern mid-latitudes of Mars. The boundary in this location includes the transition from the rugged cratered highlands of Arabia Terra to the northern lowland plains of Acidalia Planitia. Within Deuteronilus Mensae, polygonal mesas are prominent along with features diagnostic of Martian fretted terrain, including lobate debris aprons, lineated valley fill, and concentric crater fill. Lobate debris aprons, as well as the valley and crater fill deposits, are geomorphic indicators of ground ice, and their concentration in Deuteronilus Mensae is of great interest because of their potential association with Martian climate change. The paucity of impact craters on the surfaces of debris aprons and the presence of ice-cemented mantle material imply young (for example, Amazonian) surface ages that are consistent with recent climate change in this region of Mars.
North of Deuteronilus Mensae are the northern lowlands, a potential depositional sink that may have had large standing bodies of water or an ocean in the past. The northern lowlands have elevations that are several kilometers below the ancient cratered highlands with significantly younger surface ages. The morphologic and topographic characteristics of the Deuteronilus Mensae region record a diverse geologic history, including significant modification of the ancient highland plateau and resurfacing of low-lying regions. Previous studies of this region have interpreted a complex array of geologic processes, including eolian, fluvial and glacial activity, coastal erosion, marine deposition, mass wasting, tectonic faulting, effusive volcanism, and hydrovolcanism.
The origin and age of the Martian crustal dichotomy boundary are fundamental questions that remain unresolved at the present time. Several scenarios for its formation, including single and multiple large impact events, have been proposed and debated in the literature. Endogenic processes whereby crust is thinned by internal mantle convection and tectonic processes have also been proposed. Planetary accretion models and isotopic data from Martian meteorites suggest that the crust formed very early in Martian history. Using populations of quasi-circular depressions extracted from the topography of Mars, other studies suggest that the age difference between the highlands and lowlands could be ~100 m.y.. Furthermore, understanding the origin and age of the dichotomy boundary has been made more complicated due to significant erosion and deposition that have modified the boundary and its adjacent regions. The resulting diversity of terrains and features is likely a combined result of ancient and recent events. Detailed geologic analyses of dichotomy boundary zones are important for understanding the spatial and temporal variations in highland evolution. This information, and comparisons to other highland regions, can help elucidate the scale of potential environmental changes.
Previous geomorphic and geologic mapping investigations of the Deuteronilus Mensae region have been completed at local to global scales. The regional geology was first mapped by Lucchitta (1978) at 1:5,000,000 scale using Mariner 9 data. This study concluded that high crater flux early in Martian history formed overlapping craters and basins that were later filled by voluminous lava flows that buried the impacted surface, creating the highlands. After this period of heavy bombardment, fluvial erosion of the highlands formed the canyons and valleys, followed by dissection that created the small mesas and buttes, and later, formation of the steep escarpment marking the present-day northern highland margin. After valley dissection, mass wasting and eolian processes caused lateral retreat of mesas and buttes