On the formation and evolution of sinuous rilles: Morphologic and morphometric insights from the Marius Hills and Aristarchus Plateau regions
Roberts, Carolyn Eve
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Lunar sinuous rilles are characteristically long (100-350 km), narrow (< 1 km wide) volcanic channels that shallow distally from their source. Despite the vast knowledge accumulated over decades of lunar exploration, sinuous rille formation remains poorly understood. To constrain formation processes, the morphology and morphometry of many rilles were examined using Lunar Orbiter IV/V and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery. Morphologic observations suggest that sinuous rilles initially formed within expansive sheet flows as preferred pathways along the pre-eruptive surface that developed into lava tubes as the eruption continued. Geologic sketch maps reveal outcrop layering, exposed in rille walls, that is consistent with sheet flow emplacement and small, anastomosing "rillettes" around Rima Marius, suggesting that initial tubes intermingled and coalesced to form larger tubes. From terrestrial basalt flow emplacement observations, I infer that as the outer boundaries of the Rima Marius-forming sheet flow cooled, the remaining lava was forced toward the main tube and downcutting transpired at the flow base. Once the eruption concluded, lava drained out of the main tube; the dimensions of the hollow tube lead to roof collapse, resulting in the general rille structure observed today. Results from the morphometric analysis indicate that sinuous rille characteristics (length, width, sinuosity, radius of curvature, number of curves, and fractal dimension) are similar between the two highest lunar sinuous rille populations at Marius Hills and Aristarchus Plateau. Moreover, the number of curves increases linearly with rille length and a weak correlation exists between sinuosity and fractal dimension. Compared to terrestrial rivers, sinuous rilles have lower amplitudes, smaller sinuosity values and fractal dimension values. The preponderance of evidence indicates sinuous rilles formed through a combination of both constructional and erosional processes.