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Last Updated on Friday, 16 April 2010 14:48
Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2005 00:00

Royal Astronomical Society Discussion Meeting
Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London
Friday 14 November 2003.

The latest results from studies of volcanic activity in the Solar System will be the subject of the Royal Astronomical Society's November Discussion Meeting.

Leading geophysicists and planetary scientists from the UK, Europe and the United States will present new findings about the sometimes very different, but often closely-related, forms of volcanism found on Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter's moon Io.

The meeting will be held at the Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London on Friday 14 November 2003.

Media representatives are welcome to attend. Requests for interviews may be made by contacting the RAS Press Officer (Space Science), Peter Bond (see contact details above), or through the organisers, Dr. Karl Mitchell and Dr. David Rothery (contact details at the end of this release).

Most speakers are expected to be available for interview during the lunch break, immediately after the meeting, or by prior arrangement.


We are familiar with reports of volcanic eruptions from far-flung places on Earth, but the nearly 600 active volcanoes on our planet represent only a small sample of the volcanic structures that have been found on other worlds.

In recent years, the study of planetary surfaces has been revolutionised by space missions that have been sent to explore Earth's near neighbours, the Moon, Venus and Mars, as well as the four large moons of Jupiter.

The image resolution and quality of data from these missions are now comparable with the best orbital images of Earth. Our understanding is further improved by laboratory analysis of meteorites that have come from the Moon and Mars, together with geochemical studies conducted by robotic landers.

This meeting reflects the huge increase in activity and interest resulting from these advances. Presentations from UK and international scientists cover many aspects of planetary volcanism, including studies of geothermal and hydrothermal activity.

Many of the papers will look at the enigmatic volcanic landforms on Mars. Louise Bishop (University College London) believes that the Elysium Mons volcano we see today may be the result of a shift in vent activity on a much larger ancient volcanic edifice. Topographic data also show that first lava, and then a second fluid (probably water) was erupted from the linear valleys of Elysium Fossae, and that eruption of these materials occurred from the base of the larger volcanic structure.

Ernst Heuber, (DLR-Berlin) looks at Martian features - e.g. lava tunnels or tubes, sinuous rilles, sheet lava flows and linear depressions - which closely resemble those associated with plains volcanism on Earth. Crater counts indicate that this landscape was created between 1.1 billion and 500 million years ago.

Daniel Mege (Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris) and Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck/UCL) will present studies of swarms of volcanic fissures which produced huge lava plains and plateaux, while Karl Mitchell (University of Lancaster) will argue that the largest volcano in the Solar System, Olympus Mons, has been active fairly recently and may only be in a period of dormancy.

Of particular interest to would-be Mars explorers is the possible existence of subsurface water ice. Lionel Wilson (University of Lancaster) will report that scientists are finding increasingly strong evidence that several volcanic centres on Mars are potentially still active, with the possibility of intrusions not only melting subsurface ice but in some cases simply fracturing the shallow, ice-bound crust to release pre-existing water in huge flash floods.

John Smellie (British Antarctic Survey) will suggest that sub-ice volcanism, similar to that found in places such as Iceland, may have played an important part in Martian history.

Ashley Seabrook (Open University) will present evidence for the involvement of sub-surface ice in eruptions that have produced small volcanic cones in the region of Mars where the Beagle 2 lander is due to arrive on Christmas Day.

On a broader front, Richard Ghail (Imperial College, London) will review the theory of plate tectonics. Despite its success in accounting for volcanism and earthquake activity on Earth, there are still a number of questions that remain unresolved. Why is plate tectonics only found on Earth? Did plate tectonics operate during our planet's early history? Ghail will argue that a more general theory of plate tectonics is required in order to understanding of the role of volcanism on terrestrial planets.

Flood lavas on Earth appear to be related to mass extinctions when huge numbers of species became extinct. Laszlo Keszthelyi (U.S. Geological Survey) will examine how and why these dramatic flows take place on our planet, Jupiter's satellite Io, and Mars.


10:30 Morning session, chaired by Karl Mitchell

John Bridges (Open University): "The SNC meteorites: information about basaltic igneous processes on Mars"

Johannes Obenholzner (NHM Vienna): "Volcanic aerosol particles on Earth: Can similar particles be found in extraterrestrial soil samples of planets or moons known for the existence of similar types of volcanism?"

John Smellie (BAS): "Sub-ice volcanism: hydraulics, edifice structures and implications for Mars examples"

Daniel Mège (Universite Pierre et Marie Curie): "Volcanic rifting at Martian grabens."

Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck College London): "Structural Evolution of Cerberus Fossae, Mars."

Richard Ghail (Imperial College London): "A general theory of plate tectonics."

Ernst Hauber (DLR-Berlin): "The topography and morphology of low shields in Tharsis, Mars."

Ashley Seabrook (Open University): "Small cones in Isidis Planitia - evidence for fracture controlled volcanism?"

13:00 Lunch

14:00 Afternoon session, chaired by David Rothery

Karl Mitchell (Lancaster University): "Late stage volcanism at Olympus Mons."

Laszlo Keszthelyi (USGS Flagstaff): "Flood Lavas on Earth, Io, and Mars."

John Guest (University College London): "Evolution of the Venusian volcanic plains"

15:30 Tea and close

16:00 Ordinary meeting of the RAS (Free admission)

Talks include: Lionel Wilson (Lancaster): "Recent volcano-cryosphere-hydrosphere interactions on Mars"

Directions to Burlington House:
Located across the road from Fortnum and Mason, Burlington House is midway between Piccadilly Circus and Green Park underground stations, on the north side of Piccadilly. Burlington House surrounds a large courtyard which also houses The Royal Academy. After entering the gates you will find the Geological Society of London immediately on the right. The nearest underground stations are Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.


Dr. Karl MitchellPlanetary Science Research GroupLancaster UniversityLancaster LA1 4YQTel: +44 (0)1524-593975E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Dr. David RotheryDept. of Earth SciencesOpen UniversityMilton KeynesTel: +44 (0)1908-652124Mobile: +44 (0)7986 260258E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Abstracts for the meeting are available at:


Mars: A Geologically Active Planet; Karl Mitchell and Lionel Wilson, Astronomy & Geophysics (Royal Astronomical Society Journal), August 2003.


Date: 10 November 2003

Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer (Space Science).