Interpretation and understanding of methane plumes on Mars

Holmes, James; Patel, Manish and Lewis, Stephen (2018). Interpretation and understanding of methane plumes on Mars. In: Abstracts for the 1st British Planetary Science Congress, SPERO, Glasgow, p. 33.


The Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery (NOMAD) and Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS) instruments on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) spacecraft will be the first able to provide vertical profiles of multiple trace gas species, including methane. For interpretation and understanding of the retrieved methane vertical profiles, modelling studies are required to scrutinise between the different proposed mechanisms of methane release into the atmosphere, with global circulations models (GCMs) providing an invaluable tool to investigate the evolution of trace gas plumes and provide constraints on where the original source could be located, and potentially clues to its origin.

This study investigates the vertical evolution of methane from multiple different source emission scenarios, using the state-of-the-art LMD-UK Mars GCM coupled to the Analysis Correction assimilation scheme. The assimilation of temperature retrievals from the Thermal Emission Spectrometer ensures the optimal dynamical state of the atmosphere and subsequently the best constraint on the transport of tracers in the martian atmosphere.

We show that distinguishing whether the methane source is a sustained or instantaneous surface emission requires at least ten sols of tracking the emission, using methane release rates constrained by previous observations and modelling studies. A methane source must also be observed within five to ten sols of the initial emission to determine whether the emission occurs directly at the surface or within the atmosphere via destabilisation of metastable clathrates. The added constraint on global winds by the assimilation of thermal data is critical when attempting to backtrack the methane to its original source location.

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