Transverse aeolian ridges (TARs) on Mars II: distributions, orientations, and ages

Berman, Daniel C.; Balme, Matthew; Rafkin, Scot C. R. and Zimbelman, James R. (2011). Transverse aeolian ridges (TARs) on Mars II: distributions, orientations, and ages. Icarus, 213(1) pp. 116–130.



Transverse Aeolian Ridges (TARs), 10 m scale, ripple-like aeolian bedforms with simple morphology, are widespread on Mars but it is unknown what role they play in Mars’ wider sediment cycle. We present the results of a survey of all Mars Global Surveyor Narrow angle images in a pole-to-pole study area, 45° longitude wide.

Following on from the classification scheme and preliminary surveys of Balme et al. (Balme, M.R., Berman, D.C., Bourke, M.C., Zimbelman, J.R. [2008a]. Geomorphology 101, 703–720) and Wilson and Zimbelman (Wilson, S.A., Zimbelman, J.R. [2004]. J. Geophys. Res. 109 (E10). doi:10.1029/2004JE002247) we searched more than 10,000 images, and found that over 2000 reveal at least 5% areal cover by TARs. The mean TAR areal cover in the study area is about 7% (3% in the northern hemisphere and 11% in the southern hemisphere) but TARs are not homogenously distributed – they are concentrated in the mid-low latitudes and almost absent poleward of 35°N and 55°S. We found no clear correlation between TAR distribution and any of thermal inertia, kilometer-scale roughness, or elevation. We did find that TARs are less common at extremes of elevation.

We found that TARs are most common near the equator (especially in the vicinity of Meridiani Planum, in which area they have a distinctive “barchan-like” morphology) and in large southern-hemisphere impact craters. TARs in the equatorial band are usually associated with outcrops of layered terrain or steep slopes, hence their relative absence in the northern hemisphere. TARs in the southern hemisphere are most commonly associated with low albedo, intercrater dune fields. We speculate that the mid-latitude mantling terrain (e.g., Mustard, J.F., Cooper, C.D., Rifkin, M.K. [2001]. Nature 412, 411–414; Kreslavsky, M.A., Head, J.W. [2002]. J. Geophys. Res. 29 (15). doi:10.1029/2002GL015392) could also play a role in covering TARs or inhibiting saltation.

We compared TAR distribution with general circulation model (GCM) climate data for both surface wind shear stress and wind direction. We performed GCM runs at various obliquity values to simulate the effects of changing obliquity on recent Mars climate. We found good general agreement between TAR orientation and GCM wind directions from present day obliquity conditions in many cases, but found no good correlation between wind shear stress and TAR distribution.

We performed preliminary high resolution crater count studies of TARs in both equatorial and southern intracrater dunefield settings and compared these to superposition relationships between TARs and large dark dunes. Our results show that TARs near dunefield appear to be younger than TARs in the equatorial regions. We infer that active saltation from the large dunes keeps TARs active, but that TARs are not active under present day condition when distal to large dunes – perhaps supporting the interpretation that TARs are granule ripples.

We conclude that local geology, rather than wind strength, controls TAR distribution, but that their orientation matches present-day regional wind patterns in most cases. We suggest that TARs are likely most (perhaps only) active today when they are proximal to large dark dune fields.

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