Mars Virtual Field Camp: Geologic Mapping of Jezero Crater


This virtual capstone field mapping project is centered around geologic mapping of Jezero crater, Mars and is composed of six modules and four synchronous live online lectures. Students work in mapping groups (of 3-4 students) to create a geologic map of Jezero crater, cross section, and stratigraphic column that form the basis for a written report to interpret the geologic history of Jezero crater and to recommend 2-3 exploration targets for the upcoming Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Each module walks the students through aspects of the mapping process and outlines module deliverables. Overall, the project is divided into two portions. In the first (modules 1, 2a-2c), students are introduced to the software used for the mapping project and get started with mapping units at Jezero. In the second (modules 3 and 4), students enrich the mapping by incorporating remotely sensed compositional information and chronologic information through crater counting. The project includes the following aspects:

Content Area- This project incorporates concepts and workflows from photo-geologic mapping, planetary geology, remote sensing, and planetary surface age-dating for the student to create map products and write a formal report based on those products. The exploration target recommendations included in the final report also allow application of other content areas specific to the students' own interests (e.g. igneous petrology, organic biogeochemistry/biosignatures, etc.).

Technical Skills Addressed- Through the project students engage in unit description/interpretation, unit contact mapping, spectral data plotting and interpretation, and crater counting and data processing/plotting. Students then carry out synthesis and summarization of data to create and interpret map products.

Technology Used- Web-enabled PCs or laptops (Chrome books can't run JMARS) are necessary for this project. The software selected was limited to freely available programs for both the data collection and map product generation. JMARS (, a Java-based GIS, was used for the data collection, Microsoft Excel was used for the spectral and crater count data analysis, and final maps were prepared in Microsoft Powerpoint. Additional software, such as ArcGIS, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, etc. could be used to create the map products and to expose students to those packages.

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This course was developed for the second half of the senior undergraduate capstone summer 2020 field camp course at University of Utah.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

As a capstone course, students need to be familiar with geologic map attributes and interpretation, structural geology, sedimentology/stratigraphy, principles of geologic mapping, etc.

How the activity is situated in the course

This project is a stand-alone project and 2-credit course.

Activity Length

This project was designed to take ~2.5 weeks in total, but could be adapted for longer courses.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Map unit description/mapping, planetary geology, remote sensing, spectral analysis, crater counting.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Analysis of data- Students collect unit descriptions, determine unit orientations, plot/analyze compositional data, and counting/characterizing craters of a map unit.

Formulation of hypotheses- Students map unit contacts and interpret the geologic history of Jezero crater. Students propose/test hypotheses throughout the process.

Synthesis of ideas- Students prepare a geologic map, cross section, and stratigraphic column and summarize unit descriptions, contact attributes, compositional information, crater count data, etc. in order to prepare a final written report.

Proposing and defending an idea- Students propose several possible exploration targets for the upcoming Mars 2020 rover Perseverance. This allows flexibility in content areas addressed by the report and requires the student to summarize and analyze data to make the recommendation.

Other skills goals for this activity

Map product preparation (map, cross section, and stratigraphic column), technical writing, teamwork, and time management/independence.

Description and Teaching Materials

The course is structured in a blended synchronous/asynchronous style to allow flexibility in scheduling and to accommodate the student's schedule. The schedule and framework of the course is outlined in the CourseLayout&Schedule.xlsx and the SampleSyllabus.pdf files. The course lectures and readings are scheduled to precede the corresponding modules, preparing the students to accomplish the module tasks and move forward with the mapping project.

Students work in groups to finish the modules and to produce the geologic map and associated products. A required "map check" is scheduled at the course half-way mark to keep track of student progress. The last formal module is finished mid-way through the second week, leaving approximately 1 week for the students to finish their mapping, create the map products, and to write the final report.

Course Logistics Files:

Sample Syllabus: Sample Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB Jul14 20)

Course Layout & Schedule: Course Layout and Schedule (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 14kB Jul14 20)

Reading List: Reading List (Acrobat (PDF) 78kB Jul14 20)

Jezero Crater Mapping Project Outline: JezeroCraterMappingProject_ComponentOutline.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 30kB Jul14 20)

Project JMARS Files:

Cross_Section_Line.jlf ( 25kB Jul14 20)

MapArea.jlf ( 25kB Jul14 20)

Perseverance_Approx_Landing_Ellipse.jlf ( 33kB Jul14 20)


Module 1: Introduction to JMARS

  1. Module1_IntrotoJMARS.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.8MB Jul14 20)

Module 2a: Map Units

  1. Module_2a_MapUnits.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 40kB Sep18 20)
  2. TypeLocalities_BasementUnits.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 2.7MB Jul14 20)
  3. TypeLocalities_CraterFloorUnits.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 2.8MB Jul14 20)
  4. TypeLocalities_Fan&ChannelUnits.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 2.6MB Jul14 20)
  5. TypeLocalities_SurficialUnits.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 2MB Jul14 20)
  6. Map_Unit_Type_Localities.jlf ( 29kB Jul14 20)
  7. MapUnitTypeLocalities.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 421kB Jul14 20)

Module 2b: Unit Contacts

  1. Module_2b_UnitContacts.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 39kB Jul14 20)
  2. Unit_Contact_Examples.jlf ( 42kB Jul14 20)

Module 2c: Unit Orientations

  1. Module_2c_UnitOrientations.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 96kB Jul14 20)

Module 3: Compositional Remote Sensing

  1. Module3_CompositionalRemoteSensing.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.9MB Jul14 20)
  2. Module3_Images.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.7MB Jul14 20)
  3. Module3_Spectra_Points.xlsx (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 28kB Jul14 20)
  4. Spectra_Points.jlf ( 25kB Jul14 20)

Module 4: Crater Counting

  1. Module4_CraterCounting.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 234kB Jul14 20)
  2. Crater_Table&Plot.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 260kB Jul14 20)
  3. Crater_Count_Area.jlf ( 27kB Jul14 20)

Teacher Files:

Technology Needs

A web-enabled PC/laptop is required for this project to download the needed software, access the web lectures, collaborate with team members, and create the map products and report. JMARS and a presentation and spreadsheet package (e.g. Microsoft Office or OpenOffice) are the only needed software packages, though expansion to include ArcGIS/QGIS and Adobe Illustrator/Inkscape is possible.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The course materials seem to sufficiently work through the concepts and workflow needed to produce the map products and report. The biggest challenge is facilitating effective collaboration between the students (perhaps via Slack or Teams) and incorporating field notebook aspects to the project.


Each module has an answer key to assess understanding and completion of the activity, the report and report components are also graded and assessed, and student understanding is gauged through participation through the live lectures.

References and Resources

Acknowledgements- I gratefully acknowledge constructive review of course layout and materials by David Dinter and Marjorie Chan, and many thanks to the Department of Geology and Geophysics leadership at the University of Utah for the opportunity to develop and teach this course.

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