The locations come from the Mars Subsurface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) project, which analyzes historical mission data taken over 20 years of Mars missions. The project looks at five different remote sensing datasets collected by the Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Global Surveyor.
“Each of our five techniques looks at a sort of different proxy or a different way of trying to find signatures of water ice,” says Gareth Morgan, a researcher with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and the lead author of the new study. These techniques include thermal and geomorphic mapping that looks for geological surface changes caused by ice that lies less than five meters below the surface.
Morgan and his team found a few locations that would seem to work perfectly in the northern hemisphere, namely the flat Arcadia Planitia lowlands in the mid-to-upper latitudes, and the glacial networks across Deuteronilus Mensae farther east and slightly to the south. The former is an ancient region of old volcanic flows, with a suspected history of massive snowfall from tens of millions of years ago. The new results would seem to suggest those deposits slowly moved underground into very shallow depths that might be easy to drill into.
Meanwhile, Deuteronilus Mensae is home to modern-day glaciers, and exists between cratered highlands to the south and low plains to the north. The ice here is effectively the remnants of what were probably more extensive glacial structures in the past. It should be located under either a thin two-meter covering of Martian soil and rock or a very porous material that’s a few meters thick. In either instance, the ice there would be pretty accessible to Mars colonists.
NASA funded this first round of analysis only to concentrate on Mars’s northern hemisphere. Morgan believes that’s because there are large plains in the region that would make it easier to land a spacecraft on the surface. But he would love to follow up on a deeper analysis of subsurface ice deposits in the southern hemisphere as well.
“Making this work open to the community capitalizes on all available expertise, both inside and outside NASA,” says Leslie Gertsch, a geological engineer at Missouri University of Science and Technology, who was not involved with the study. “The next step is to equip future missions with better ice-mapping capability—0.5 to 15 meters below the surface, a depth range that could be accessed by remote mining techniques.”
NASA’s already in the process of prospecting for water ice on the moon. Considering how difficult it is to go to Mars (the launch window is once every two years), it’s worth thinking about these issues much earlier.
“The scarcity of sufficiently detailed subsurface data, even on Earth, is why mining is always a gamble,” says Gertsch. “Yet it is a necessary one for humanity to survive elsewhere.”
Donald ’67, SM ’69, and Glenda Mattes
Don Mattes started giving to the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT before he himself was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since his death in 2020, his wife, Glenda, has carried forward Don’s passion for its work. “My wish is that no one ever has to go through the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease ever again,” Glenda says. The Matteses have also supported the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
Legacy sparks hope. An early key employee of Andover Controls who later ran the company’s European operations, Don visited six continents with Glenda during their 30-year marriage—often to ski or bicycle. “Don’s was a life well lived, just too short,” Glenda says. The couple made provisions in their estate plan to support the Picower Institute. After Don died, Glenda made a gift to MIT of real estate that established both endowed and current-use funds there to support research on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Glenda is a cancer survivor, and the gift also endowed a fund in the couple’s name at the Koch Institute.
Great discoveries being made at MIT: “Don always said the best thing he got from MIT was being taught how to think,” Glenda says. “MIT is an amazing place. Picower Institute director Li-Huei Tsai and her team are doing more than looking for a treatment for Alzheimer’s. They’re looking for the root cause of the disease. I am also fascinated with the Koch’s melding of engineering and biology. The chances they are going to solve the cancer issue someday are very high.”
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Investing in women pays off
“Starting a business is a privilege,” says Burton O’Toole, who worked at various startups before launching and later selling AdMass, her own marketing technology company. The company gave her access to the HearstLab program in 2016, but she soon discovered that she preferred the investment aspect and became a vice president at HearstLab a year later. “To empower some of the smartest women to do what they love is great,” she says. But in addition to rooting for women, Burton O’Toole loves the work because it’s a great market opportunity.
“Research shows female-led teams see two and a half times higher returns compared to male-led teams,” she says, adding that women and people of color tend to build more diverse teams and therefore benefit from varied viewpoints and perspectives. She also explains that companies with women on their founding teams are likely to get acquired or go public sooner. “Despite results like this, just 2.3% of venture capital funding goes to teams founded by women. It’s still amazing to me that more investors aren’t taking this data more seriously,” she says.
Burton O’Toole—who earned a BS from Duke in 2007 before getting an MS and PhD from MIT, all in mechanical engineering—has been a “data nerd” since she can remember. In high school she wanted to become an actuary. “Ten years ago, I never could have imagined this work; I like the idea of doing something in 10 more years I couldn’t imagine now,” she says.
When starting a business, Burton O’Toole says, “women tend to want all their ducks in a row before they act. They say, ‘I’ll do it when I get this promotion, have enough money, finish this project.’ But there’s only one good way. Make the jump.”
Preparing for disasters, before it’s too late
All too often, the work of developing global disaster and climate resiliency happens when disaster—such as a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami—has already ravaged entire cities and torn communities apart. But Elizabeth Petheo, MBA ’14, says that recently her work has been focused on preparedness.
It’s hard to get attention for preparedness efforts, explains Petheo, a principal at Miyamoto International, an engineering and disaster risk reduction consulting firm. “You can always get a lot of attention when there’s a disaster event, but at that point it’s too late,” she adds.
Petheo leads the firm’s projects and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region and advises globally on international development and humanitarian assistance. She also works on preparedness in the Asia-Pacific region with the United States Agency for International Development.
“We’re doing programming on the engagement of the private sector in disaster risk management in Indonesia, which is a very disaster-prone country,” she says. “Smaller and medium-sized businesses are important contributors to job creation and economic development. When they go down, the impact on lives, livelihoods, and the community’s ability to respond and recover effectively is extreme. We work to strengthen their own understanding of their risk and that of their surrounding community, lead them through an action-planning process to build resilience, and link that with larger policy initiatives at the national level.”
Petheo came to MIT with international leadership experience, having managed high-profile global development and risk mitigation initiatives at the World Bank in Washington, DC, as well as with US government agencies and international organizations leading major global humanitarian responses and teams in Sri Lanka and Haiti. But she says her time at Sloan helped her become prepared for this next phase in her career. “Sloan was the experience that put all the pieces together,” she says.
Petheo has maintained strong connections with MIT. In 2018, she received the Margaret L.A. MacVicar ’65, ScD ’67, Award in recognition of her role starting and leading the MIT Sloan Club in Washington, DC, and her work as an inaugural member of the Graduate Alumni Council (GAC). She is also a member of the Friends of the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center.
“I believe deeply in the power and impact of the Institute’s work and people,” she says. “The moment I graduated, my thought process was, ‘How can I give back, and how can I continue to strengthen the experience of those who will come after me?’”