Researchers have found that there are pure ice sheets that extend up to 100 meters deep.
The surface of the planet had been mapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in much detail and Dundas and his colleagues used its pictures to locate exposed ice in small craters, glaciers and ice sheets. Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent.
Although ice has always been known to exist on Mars, a better understanding of its depth and location could be vital to future human explorers, said the report in the United States journal Science. The fractures and steep angles indicate that the ice is cohesive and strong, the authors say.
The ice deposits could help scientists glean more information about underground ice sheets in the middle latitudes of Mars, which had previously gone undetected.
Scientists now want to seek out similar cliffs closer to the equator, hoping that the next surprise awaiting them is the discovery of ice nearer to the tropics. Images taken over the course of three Martian years reveal massive chunks of rock that fell from the ice as erosion occurred, leading the researchers to estimate that the ice is retreating a few millimeters each summer.
The discovery is particularly exciting for future human exploration of the planet previously renowned for its dry arid landscape.
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'Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you, ' said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, a co-author on today's report. "You don't see a high-tech solution", Byrne added.
The latitudes were the equivalent on Earth of Scotland or the tip of South America.
The remarkable ice cliffs appear to contain distinct layers, which could preserve a record of Mars' past climate, according to the.
'This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought, ' said Colin Dundas, a geologist at the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. I think it's sort of a game-changer.
'You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need.