crater, morphology, planets, morphometrics


The morphologies of craters on planetary surfaces reveal clues about the geologic mechanisms by which they originate and subsequently evolve, as well as the materials and physical variables inherent to the environment in which they formed. We carried out a quantitative multivariate analysis of shape descriptors derived from the outlines of craters formed by volcanic processes on Mars, Io, and Earth and by impact cratering on the Moon using elliptic Fourier analysis (EFA) and the Zahn-Roskies (Z-R) shape function. Canonical variate analysis (CVA) was used to construct a statistical model of differences between the crater groups to classify craters produced by various volcanic and impact processes.

The classification model from canonical variate analysis of EFA shape descriptors yielded a 90% rate of success for the assignment of group membership among 406 examined craters. It correctly classified 138 of 154 (90%) ionian paterae,154 of 155 (99%) lunar impact craters, 31 of 35 (89%) terrestrial basaltic shield calderas, 32 of 38 (84%) terrestrial ash-flow calderas, and 12 of 24 (50%) martian basaltic shield calderas. The classification model from canonical variate analysis of Z-R shape function descriptors classified 84% of the total population of the examined craters correctly. The analysis correctly classified 96% of ionian paterae, 100% lunar impact craters, 51% terrestrial basaltic shield calderas, and 63% martian calderas, but only 16% of the terrestrial ash-flow calderas were correctly classified.

Canonical variate analysis of EFA and Z-R results shows that the shapes of ash-flow calderas and paterae on Io differ the least of all groups included in this study, and basaltic shield calderas and martian calderas analyzed together also have few differences. The Z-R model successfully classifies more ionian patera and impact craters than the EFA classification model but performs poorly at classifying the other crater groups. This result shows that the descriptors convey different shape information. The Z-R model is robust in its ability to classify end-member differences in complexity while the EFA model is robust in its ability to reliably classify among more groups.

These differences and similarities in shape confirm previously understood commonalities related to the origin and evolution of various types of craters. In general, basalt shield calderas on Earth and Mars are morphologically similar and are thought to have similar origins; this study confirms that the 2-D shapes of their craters are quantitatively correlated. Similarities have been noted between terrestrial ash-flow calderas and paterae on Io, principally in their large sizes, shallow magma chambers and complex evolution; this study confirms their shapes are also similar. Impact craters and ionian paterae are most dissimilar, as are their evolutions. This study demonstrates rigorous landform shape analysis can greatly increase our understanding of the diversity in craters and the processes involved in their formation.

Original Publication Citation

Slezak, TJ, Radebaugh J, Christiansen EH, Belk MC. Classification of planetary craters using outline-based morphometrics. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 407, 2020, 107102.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research




Life Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

Included in

Biology Commons