Mars for Earthlings > Lesson Modules > Homework 1-Mars Fluvial Channels: Contour Maps

Mars Fluvial Channels: Contour Maps

Homework 1- Surface Water_MFE

Julia Kahmann-Robinson PhD, University of Utah Department of Geology & Geophysics


Students will become familiar with contour maps in general and how to read them. Observe fluvial incised-channels on a contour map of Earth and compare to a contour map of Mars, making predictions of potential fluvial activity on Mars.


  1. If not uploaded to you or your student's Google Earth application, load the USGS topographic maps layer to Google Earth using the following website and link:
  2. Print a classroom set of the Mars contour map* found here: . Students may also navigate to the contour map online and accomplish the homework similarly.

*Beware, the download time for this map can be slow, especially if you have a slow connection.


1. To get your bearings on Earth, Center your map/viewer on the following coordinates: 38°27'N, 109°41'W, near Pyramid Butte, UT
  • What major river is present in the area?

  • Find Dripping Spring (southeast of Pyramid Butte). What is the direction of flow from Dripping Spring to the nearby major river? How do the contour lines indicate the direction of flow? Sketch an example below of what the contour lines look like in relationship to the stream:

  • If you were to hike from Pyramid Butte to the nearby Campground in the northeast, would you be hiking uphill or downhill? Please explain why in terms of the elevation change and how the contour lines indicate this.

  • Follow the meanders of the major rive channel. How are the contours drawn near the river? Do they follow the river? Cross the river? Explain the reason why the contours are drawn the way they are.

  • Using the ruler tool, estimate the distance in miles from Pyramid Butte to Musselman Arch to the southwest.

  • Zoom in on the Goosenecks of the major river. Zoom in enough to see the annotated hand-drawn sand bars of the river. Explain the origin of the sand bars and whether or not you could hike out of the goosenecks easily.

  • Where the words "Goosenecks" are written (white area), is this an area of relief or a depression? Please explain how you know this.

2. Using the Mars contour map (*beware, the download time for this map can be slow, especially if you have a slow connection) find Valles Marineris. Look northeast of Valles Marineris, around the 330E/30W longitude line and the Martian equator.
  • In general, what are the contour lines "outlining"? Mountains, rivers, craters etc.

  • Are there any areas that are similar to a fluvial channel? If so, screen capture an image and paste here or sketch what you see as evidence of a fluvial channel.

  • Extreme elevation changes are not so common on Mars. What might be the reason for this? Explain at least 2 reasons for this phenomenon.