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

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...

Recurring martian streaks: flowing sand, not water?

November 20, 2017

Dark features on Mars previously considered evidence for subsurface flowing of water are interpreted by new research as granular flows, where grains of sand and dust slip downhill to make dark streaks, rather than the ground ...

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.