Glaciers beneath the dusty sands of Mars contain enough water to coat the planet with more than three feet of ice, a new study shows.
"We have calculated that the ice in the glaciers is equivalent to over 150 billion cubic meters of ice - that much ice could cover the entire surface of Mars with 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) of ice," Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson, a post-doctoral researcher the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.
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Radar images previously revealed thousands of buried glacier-like formations in the planet's northern and southern hemispheres.
That data has now been incorporated into computer models of ice flow to determine the glaciers' size and hence how much water they contain.
"We have looked at radar measurements spanning 10 years back in time to see how thick the ice is and how it behaves. A glacier is, after all, a big chunk of ice and it flows and gets a form that tells us something about how soft it is. We then compared this with how glaciers on Earth behave and from that we have been able to make models for the ice flow," she said.
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The glaciers are located in belts around Mars between 30 degrees and 50 degrees latitude, roughly equivalent to just south of Denmark's location on Earth. The glaciers are found on both the northern and southern hemispheres.
The finding could be an important clue to what happened to Mars' water. The planet, which is now a cold, dry desert, once had oceans, lakes and habitats suitable for microbial life, results from past and ongoing science missions show.
"The ice at the mid-latitudes is an important part of Mars' water reservoir," Karlsson said.
Scientists suspect the thick layer of dust covering the ice has saved if from evaporating out into space.
The study appears in this week's Geophysical Research Letters.