Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Spatial, temporal, and inter-annual variability of the Martian northern seasonal polar cap
by Mount, Christopher P., M.S., Northern Arizona University, 2013, 203; 1537795
Abstract (Summary)

Earth and Mars have nearly the same axial tilt, so seasons on these two bodies progress in a similar manner. During fall and winter on Mars, the primarily CO2 atmosphere (~95% by volume) condenses out onto the poles as ice. Approximately 25% of the entire Martian atmosphere condenses, and then sublimes in the spring, making this cycle a dominant driver in the global climate. Because the water and dust cycles are coupled to this CO2 cycle, we must examine seasonal CO2 processes to understand the global (seasonal) distribution of H2O on Mars. The density of the ice may indicate whether it condensed in the atmosphere and precipitated as “snow” or condensed directly onto the surface as “slab”. Variations in density may be controlled by geographic location and surface morphology. The distribution and variations in densities of seasonal deposits on the Martian poles gives us insight to the planet’s volatile inventories. Here we analyze density variations over time on Mars’ Northern Polar Seasonal Cap (NPSC) using observational data and energy balance techniques.

We calculate the bulk density of surface CO2 ice by dividing the column mass abundance (the mass of CO2 per unit area) by the depth of the ice cap at a given location. We use seasonal rock shadow measurements from High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) images to estimate ice depth. The length of a rock’s shadow is related to its height through the solar incidence angle and the slope of the ground.

From differences in the height of a rock measured in icy vs. ice-free images, we estimate the depth of surface ice at the time of the icy observation. Averaging over many rocks in a region yields the ice depth for that region. This technique yields minimums for ice depth and therefore maximums for density.

Thermal properties of rocks may play an important role in observed ice depths. Crowns of ice may form on the tops of rocks with insufficient heat capacity to inhibit ice condensation, and may cause an artificial increase in shadow length. This increases the apparent height of a rock and thus decreases the apparent surface ice depth. Additionally, moats may form around rocks with sufficient heat capacity to sublime ice as it is deposited. Moating will also artificially increase the shadow lengths (decreasing apparent surface ice depth). We correct for these effects in our depth-estimation technique.

We balance incoming solar flux with outgoing thermal radiation from Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) observations to calculate the column mass abundance. TES thermal bolometer atmospheric albedo and temperature observations are a good proxy to the surface bond albedo and effective surface temperature. These parameters are needed to balance the incoming and outgoing flux.

Mars’ atmosphere is tenuous so we assume homogeneous radiance from the surface to the top of the atmosphere, no lateral diffusion of heat, and that any excess heat goes into subliming surface ice in our flux balance. Using a Monte Carlo model, we integrate the net flux until reaching the time where Cap Recession Observations indicate CO2 has Ultimately Sublimed (the CROCUS date) to obtain the column mass abundance.

We study seasonal ice at three distinct geomorphic units: plains, dune fields, and craters. Two plains regions, four dunes regions, and two crater regions are analyzed over springtime sublimation. Data for these regions spanned three Mars Years.

Our results indicate that the evolution of seasonally deposited CO 2 ice on the Northern Polar Cap of Mars is highly dependent on complex relationships between various processes. The grain size, dust contamination, water doping, and density vary dramatically over time. The initially deposited material varies according to local geomorphic features and topography, as well as latitude and longitude. The inter-annual variability of ice may play a role in its evolution over sublimation, but likely plays a smaller role than anticipated. Low normalized initial and time-averaged densities suggest that NPSC deposits are initially low and remain relatively low throughout spring. These densities are very similar to estimates made by previous studies. Thus, we conclude that the NPSC is indeed pervaded by low density deposits. These deposits densify over time, but rarely reach typical characteristics for pure slab ice.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Titus, Timothy N.
Commitee: Barlow, Nadine G., Tegler, Stephen C.
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: Physics and Astronomy
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: MAI 51/06M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Planetology, Astronomy, Atmospheric sciences
Keywords: CO2, Ice, Mars, Polar, Seasonal
Publication Number: 1537795
ISBN: 978-1-303-09665-5
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