Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TARs) on Mars

Balme, Matthew; Berman, Daniel; Bourke, Mary and Zimbelman, James (2008). Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TARs) on Mars. Geomorphology Journal, 101(4) pp. 703–720.



Aeolian processes are probably the dominant ongoing surface process on Mars; Large Dark Dunes (LDDs), particularly common aeolian landforms, were first recognized in the early 1970s. Recent, higher resolution images have revealed another, morphologically distinct, large population of smaller, ripple-like aeolian bedforms that have been termed “Transverse Aeolian Ridges” (TARs) as it is unknown whether they formed as large ripples or small dunes. We have begun a new study of TARs that examines their distribution, orientation, and morphology using > 10,000 high-resolution Mars Orbiter Camera (1.5 to 8 m/pixel resolution) images in a 45° longitude wide, pole-to-pole survey. The aim of this study is to assess whether TARs are active, to identify possible sediment sources and pathways, and to determine the volumes of sediment that they comprise. We present results from the first half of this study, in which we examine the northern hemisphere, and describe a new three-part classification scheme used to aid the survey.

Our results show that TARs are abundant but not ubiquitous: preferentially forming proximal to friable, layered terrains such as those found in Terra Meridiani — the location of the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity” mission. TAR distribution in the northern hemisphere shows a strong latitudinal dependence with very few TARs being found north of 30° N. We also find that in most cases TARs are less mobile than LDDs, a conclusion possibly explained by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity observations that show TAR-like ripples to have a core of fine material armored by a monolayer of granule-sized particles. This could disallow significant bedform movement under the current wind regime. That TARs are essentially inactive is confirmed by superposition relations with slope streaks and LDDs and by observations of superposed impact craters. We suggest that observations made by the Opportunity Rover in Terra Meridiani indicate that the small aeolian bedforms common here are ripples and not small dunes. Farther south, these bedforms transition into larger features indistinguishable from TARs, suggesting that TARs (in the Meridiani area at least) are ripples and not dunes.

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