Wind has been an enduring geologic agent throughout the history of Mars, but it is often unclear where and why sediment is mobile in the current epoch. We investigated whether eolian bed-form (dune and ripple) transport rates are depressed or enhanced in some areas by local or regional boundary conditions (e.g., topography, sand supply/availability). Bed-form heights, migration rates, and sand fluxes all span two to three orders of magnitude across Mars, but we found that areas with the highest sand fluxes are concentrated in three regions: Syrtis Major, Hellespontus Montes, and the north polar erg. All regions are located near prominent transition zones of topography (e.g., basins, polar caps) and thermophysical properties (e.g., albedo variations); these are not known to be critical terrestrial boundary conditions. The two regions adjacent to major impact basins (Hellas and Isidis Planitia) showed radially outward upslope winds driving sand movement, although seasonally reversing wind regimes were also observed. The northern polar dunes yielded the highest known fluxes on the planet, driven by summer katabatic winds modulated by the seasonal CO2 cap retreat—processes not known to affect terrestrial dunes. In contrast, southern dune fields (<45°S) were less mobile, likely as a result of seasonal frost and ground ice suppressing sand availability. Results suggest that, unlike on Earth, large-scale topographic and thermophysical variabilities play a leading role in driving sand fluxes on Mars.
Research Article|March 11, 2019
Boundary condition controls on the high-sand-flux regions of Mars
Maria E. Banks
Lori K. Fenton