Atmospheric structure and diurnal variations at low altitudes in the Martian Tropics

Hinson, David P.; Spiga, Aymeric; Lewis, Stephen; Tellmann, Silvia; Pätzold, Martin; Asmar, Sami and Häusler, Bernd (2013). Atmospheric structure and diurnal variations at low altitudes in the Martian Tropics. In: AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting, 6-11 Oct 2013, Denver, Colorado, USA, American Astronomical Society, pp. 204–205.



We are using radio occultation measurements from Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Global Surveyor to characterize the diurnal cycle in the lowest scale height above the surface. We focus on northern spring and summer, using observations from 4 Martian years at local times of 4-5 and 15-17 h. We supplement the observations with results obtained from large-eddy simulations and through data assimilation by the UK spectral version of the LMD Mars Global Circulation Model. We previously investigated the depth of the daytime convective boundary layer (CBL) and its variations with surface elevation and surface properties. We are now examining unusual aspects of the temperature structure observed at night. Most important, predawn profiles in the Tharsis region contain an unexpected layer of neutral static stability at pressures of 200-300 Pa with a depth of 4-5 km. The mixed layer is bounded above by a midlevel temperature inversion and below by another strong inversion adjacent to the surface. The narrow temperature minimum at the base of the midlevel inversion suggests the presence of a water ice cloud layer, with the further implication that radiative cooling at cloud level can induce convective activity at lower altitudes. Conversely, nighttime profiles in Amazonis show no sign of a midlevel inversion or a detached mixed layer. These regional variations in the nighttime temperature structure appear to arise in part from large-scale variations in topography, which have several notable effects. First, the CBL is much deeper in the Tharsis region than in Amazonis, owing to a roughly 6-km difference in surface elevation. Second, large-eddy simulations show that daytime convection is not only deeper above Tharsis but also considerably more intense than it is in Amazonis. Finally, the daytime surface temperatures are comparable in the two regions, so that Tharsis acts as an elevated heat source throughout the CBL. These topographic effects are expected to enhance the vertical mixing of water vapor above elevated terrain, which might lead to the formation and regional confinement of nighttime clouds.

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