On earth, there exists large amounts of water underground in aquifers. Curiosity has proven that water used to exist on the surface. If this is true, Mars still may have underground reservoirs of water...

Has there been any research/missions to search for underground water reservoirs?

One technique used on earth to search for underground water reservoirs, without digging, is to use Proton Magnetic Resonance (PMR). Is there a reason such a technique has never been applied to Mars, to search for underground reservoirs up to 150 meters?

Side note: Can PMR also be used for discovery of caves/lava tubes too?

Finding a cave, or underground water reservoir would be a place of high scientific interest and/or possibly a good place to colonize...

Clarification -- My main question is in regards to looking for underground resources, such as water an/or caves, any technique is a welcomed answer. PMR is simply one example that my research has found.

  • $\begingroup$ Consider that the water in any aquifiers will be frozen. This may make techniques used on Earth ineffective - but i don't know. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Apr 4, 2015 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the depth of the top of the reservoir. Best case, you find a frozen "lake" only 20-30 feet down, and you can dig for that. Worst case, you have a concrete goal for engineers to figure out. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2015 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ ESA's ExoMars rover will have a WISDOM (Water Ice Subsurface Deposits Observation on Mars) GPR. As will NASA's Mars 2020 Rover with RIMFAX GRP (Ground Penetrating Radar). And NASA's InSight lander will study Martian seismology. Question is, what kind of water we'll be searching for. Recent observations suggest there's much more "heavy water" on Mars than previously estimated (due to faster atmospheric escape of lighter Hydrogen protons than Deuterium ones). It might also be in layered deposits of water and dry ice. It's unclear how good a PMR would be at that, plus you need a minimum of two. $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Apr 5, 2015 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ Since no one can downvote me for making a joke in a comment, I'll say: Dowsing ;) $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2015 at 4:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Definitely see the answer by Brian Tompsett below - given that Mars appears to have substantial above-ground water-ice glaciers, just below a layer of dust (at mid-latitudes), explorers shouldn't need to dig down anywhere close to 150 meters. Caves are another topic altogether of course :-) $\endgroup$
    – Kirkaiya
    Apr 9, 2015 at 20:42

3 Answers 3


A google search shows one scholarly paper, sponsored by NASA, which describes techniques for finding subsurface water to a depth of a kilometer. It is readable by those who have research library credentials:

Grimm, R. E., A comparison of time domain electromagnetic and surface nuclear magnetic resonance sounding for subsurface water on Mars, J. Geophys. Res., 108(E4), 8037, doi:10.1029/2002JE001882, 2003.

The paper discusses the combining of time domain electromagnetic (TDEM) method with Surface nuclear magnetic resonance (SNMR), and also calculates the energy requirements of such instruments leading to a feasibility of performing such a survey.

The paper includes the concluding remark:

The unambiguous detection of groundwater on Mars by SNMR is unlikely to be achieved without massive resources, perhaps those that must await human exploration. Classical low-frequency EM methods provide robotic reconnaissance missions the best trade of sensitivity to water (with some nonuniqueness) versus system size, mass, and power.


Another recent publication in the media on this topic:

Niels Bohr Institute Press Release: Mars has belts of glaciers consisting of frozen water which cites the article from Geophysical Research Letters.


Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to determine that is water ice. But how thick was the ice and do they resemble glaciers on Earth?

A group of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have now calculated this using radar observations combined with ice flow modelling.

Also noted in this article in The Register: Drill, baby, drill: HIDDEN glaciers ON MARS hold 150bn cubic metres of precious frozen WATER.


There is a method for measuring underground density using Gravity Gradiometry with wide range of applicability, including resource exploration (oil, precious metals, e.t.c.). It is based on measuring local gravitational field anomaly.

There is Spacecraft-Borne Gradiometer Mission Analysis conducted by NASA in 1976, summarized in paper by P. Argentiero, R. Garza-Robles stating that:

The spacecraft-borne gradiometer is an ideal instrument for globally mapping geopotential fine structure. Mean gravity anomalies exhibit considerable orthogonality in gradiometer data, and local blocks of gravity anomalies in local blocks of gradiometer data can therefore be successfully estimated.

In the last decades there have been great increase in precision (exceeding all the rest of the methods) with Atom Interferometers used for gravitational measurements.

Based on the above, my conclusion is that the most possible method they would use is Specraft-Borne (Atom) Gradiometry.


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