Martian carbon dioxide clouds tied to atmospheric gravity waves

February 14, 2012

On 4 March 1997 the Mars Pathfinder lander fell through the thin Martian atmosphere. During its descent, instrumentation aboard the lander recorded the changing atmospheric temperature, pressure, and density.

Within this atmospheric profile, researchers identified anomalous cold air packets within the Martian mesosphere (60-90 kilometers, or 37-56 miles, altitude). Later orbital measurements confirmed the existence of these cold pockets, adding to the mystery the detection of clouds made from carbon dioxide. Researchers in 1998 suspected that the cold air pockets, and thus conditions favorable for carbon dioxide condensation, were the product of atmospheric gravity waves in the Martian mesosphere. That hypothesis remained largely untested until advances in global- and intermediate-scale atmospheric models allowed Spiga et al. to confirm that gravity waves were a potentially viable mechanism to produce the necessary mesospheric conditions.

The authors find that gravity waves, produced in the model when wind rose up and over a mountain, could cause in the of up to 12 degrees Kelvin (21 degrees Fahrenheit). They suggest that this amount of cooling, if it happens to coincide with a larger shift, could push mesospheric temperatures a few degrees below the -80 degrees Celsius (-112 degrees Fahreneheit) condensation point of carbon dioxide. Combining the results of their smaller-scale model with those of a Martian general , the authors find that they can account for carbon dioxide cloud distribution patterns consistent with observational records.

Explore further: Texas A&M prof to predict weather on Mars

More information: Gravity waves, cold pockets and CO2 clouds in the Martian mesosphere, Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1029/2011GL050343 , 2012

Related Stories

Texas A&M prof to predict weather on Mars

November 4, 2009

Is there such a thing as "weather" on Mars? There are some doubts, considering the planet's atmosphere is only 1 percent as dense as that of the Earth. Mars, however, definitely has clouds, drastically low temperatures and ...

Sensitive side

May 5, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A little extra carbon dioxide in the air may, unfortunately, go further towards warming Earth than previously thought. A team of British and U.S. researchers have uncovered evidence [1] that Earth’s climate ...

Winds drive dune movement on Mars

November 16, 2011

Sand dunes, a common feature on the surface of Mars, can provide a record of recent and past changes. Some dunes near Mars’ polar areas have been observed to move recently due to carbon dioxide ice sublimation, but it ...

Recommended for you

Mars rover Opportunity on walkabout near rim

June 23, 2017

NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is examining rocks at the edge of Endeavour Crater for signs that they may have been either transported by a flood or eroded in place by wind.

CHESS mission will check out the space between stars

June 23, 2017

Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, ...

Dutch astronomers discover recipe to make cosmic glycerol

June 23, 2017

A team of laboratory astrophysicists from Leiden University (the Netherlands) managed to make glycerol under conditions comparable to those in dark interstellar clouds. They allowed carbon monoxide ice to react with hydrogen ...

Scientists uncover origins of the Sun's swirling spicules

June 22, 2017

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun's surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2012
Based on the "official" atmospheric pressure on Mars the condensation temperature of CO2 at altitude is far, far below the ca. -80 deg C suggested here. The data is readily available.
madema6
not rated yet Feb 15, 2012
Based on the "official" atmospheric pressure on Mars the condensation temperature of CO2 at altitude is far, far below the ca. -80 deg C suggested here. The data is readily available.


On Mars, with 7 hPa of atmospheric pressure, the condensation point of carbon dioxide has to be ~ -123°C, so what's the real pressure on Mars?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.