Characteristics of large Martian dust devils using Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System visual and infrared images

Towner, Martin (2009). Characteristics of large Martian dust devils using Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System visual and infrared images. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 114(e2) E02010.



A search for Martian dust devils has been carried out, using Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) visible-wavelength images. Simultaneous THEMIS thermal infrared wavelength images were then processed and analyzed to investigate the thermal properties of the dust devils observed; 3079 images were checked, concentrating on northern spring, summer, and autumn (LS from 0° to 270°, 20°S to 50°N). Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera, Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera, and other THEMIS visible images were used for comparison to potentially rule out any ambiguous geological features. Eight clear examples of dust devils have been found in five separate images, with a comparable number of unconfirmed possible devils. The rarity of dust devils observed is believed to result from a combination of the difficulty in identifying dust devils in medium resolution THEMIS data and the fact that the Mars Odyssey orbit flyover local time is later in the afternoon than would be optimum for dust devil searching. The temporal distribution of dust devil activity appears to be weighted more toward later afternoon, compared to Earth, but this may be a sampling effect due to size variation with time of sol, greater coverage later in the sol, or the small-number statistics. The thermal infrared images indicate that the lofted dust in the column is cooler than the surrounding surface and must be equilibrating with the atmosphere in the dust devil. This energy transfer is estimated to be about 10% of the heat flux energy that is available to drive the systems. The ground shadowed by the dust column also appears colder than the surroundings, because of reduced solar illumination. From the visible-wavelength images, the shadows of the dust columns were used to estimate the column opacity, which in turn gave estimates of the dust loadings, which ranged from 1.9 × 10?5 to 1.5 × 10?4 kg m?3, similar to lander-based observations. No thermal or visible trails are associated with the dust devils, indicating that the surface equilibrates quickly after the devil has passed and that track counting as a dust devil survey technique must underestimate dust devil populations and consequently dust loading calculations, confirming previous work.

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