The atmospheric circulation and dust activity in different orbital epochs on Mars

Newman, Claire E.; Lewis, Stephen R. and Read, Peter L. (2005). The atmospheric circulation and dust activity in different orbital epochs on Mars. Icarus, 174(1) pp. 135–160.



A general circulation model is used to evaluate changes to the circulation and dust transport in the martian atmosphere for a range of past orbital conditions. A dust transport scheme, including parameterized dust lifting, is incorporated within the model to enable passive or radiatively active dust transport. The focus is on changes which relate to surface features, as these may potentially be verified by observations. Obliquity variations have the largest impact, as they affect the latitudinal distribution of solar heating. At low obliquities permanent CO2 ice caps form at both poles, lowering mean surface pressures. At higher obliquities, solar insolation peaks at higher summer latitudes near solstice, producing a stronger, broader meridional circulation and a larger seasonal CO2 ice cap in winter. Near-surface winds associated with the main meridional circulation intensify and extend polewards, with changes in cap edge position also affecting the flow. Hence the model predicts significant changes in surface wind directions as well as magnitudes. Dust lifting by wind stress increases with obliquity as the meridional circulation and associated near-surface winds strengthen. If active dust transport is used, then lifting rates increase further in response to the larger atmospheric dust opacities (hence circulation) produced. Dust lifting by dust devils increases more gradually with obliquity, having a weaker link to the meridional circulation. The primary effect of varying eccentricity is to change the impact of varying the areocentric longitude of perihelion, l, which determines when the solar forcing is strongest. The atmospheric circulation is stronger when l aligns with solstice rather than equinox, and there is also a bias from the martian topography, resulting in the strongest circulations when perihelion is at northern winter solstice. Net dust accumulation depends on both lifting and deposition. Dust which has been well mixed within the atmosphere is deposited preferentially over high topography. For wind stress lifting, the combination produces peak net removal within western boundary currents and southern midlatitude bands, and net accumulation concentrated in Arabia and Tharsis. In active dust transport experiments, dust is also scoured from northern midlatitudes during winter, further confining peak accumulation to equatorial regions. As obliquity increases, polar accumulation rates increase for wind stress lifting and are largest for high eccentricities when perihelion occurs during northern winter. For dust devil lifting, polar accumulation rates increase (though less rapidly) with obliquity above o=25°, but increase with decreasing obliquity below this, thus polar dust accumulation at low obliquities may be increasingly due to dust lifted by dust devils. For all cases discussed, the pole receiving most dust shifts from north to south as obliquity is increased.

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