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Large Volcanic Channels of the Inner Solar System  

David W. Leverington

Many large volcanic channel systems are recognized at the surfaces of rocky bodies of the inner solar system. The more than 200 channels known for the Moon mainly have simple sinuous forms with widths of up to several kilometers and lengths of up to hundreds of kilometers, typically commencing at topographic depressions and extending downslope until they fade into associated volcanic units. The Rima Hadley system was a key target of the Apollo 15 mission and was confirmed as a product of volcanic processes related to the emplacement of lavas in the Palus Putredinis region of Mare Imbrium. The more than 200 channels known for Venus are in many cases morphologically similar to sinuous lunar rilles, but some systems are especially large and complex, with widths of up to tens of kilometers and lengths that can exceed 1,000 km. Such systems typically commence at structural features or in regions of disturbed terrain and possess anastomosing reaches associated with prominent streamlined uplands. In contrast, Venusian canali typically maintain sinuous forms with widths of only a few kilometers but remarkably can be characterized by lengths of thousands of kilometers. Some Venusian channels were involved in the emplacement of fluidized ejecta in the vicinities of impact craters whereas others may have formed in such environments as a result of later volcanic events. The 10 large volcanic channels that are recognized on Mercury have lengths no greater than ~161 km but can have widths of up to several tens of kilometers. These systems developed as conduits for voluminous lavas that extend across adjacent impact basins. Terrestrial komatiitic channels of Archean and Proterozoic ages can have sizes that are comparable to those of lunar rilles, and the formation of these systems is likely to have played an important role in the development of associated Ni-Cu-(PGE) ores. The outflow channels of Mars have widths of up to tens of kilometers and lengths of up to thousands of kilometers and are widely interpreted as aqueous systems formed by catastrophic discharges from aquifers, but the properties and geological associations of these features and numerous other large Martian channel systems are arguably well aligned with those expected of volcanic origins. Overall, large volcanic channels of the inner solar system are mainly ancient products of the emplacement of low-viscosity lava flows of mafic or ultramafic composition, involving eruptions that were characterized by extraordinarily high effusion rates and total lava volumes that in some cases are likely to have been as great as those that characterized some Large Igneous Provinces on Earth. The deeply rooted igneous plumbing systems most favorable to the development of large volcanic channels would have been especially common in the earlier history of the solar system, when the interior temperatures of rocky bodies were greater than today. The early development of large volcanic channel systems is likely typical of the geological histories of large rocky bodies in the universe.