Impacts of the 2018 Global Dust Storm on Martian Polar Dynamics

Streeter, Paul; Lewis, Stephen; Patel, Manish and Holmes, James (2020). Impacts of the 2018 Global Dust Storm on Martian Polar Dynamics. In: Europlanet Science Congress 2020, 21 Sep - 9 Oct 2020, Virtual.




Introduction: Mars’ winter atmos-phere is characterized by a polar vortex of low temperatures around the winter pole, circumscribed by a strong westerly jet [e.g. 1]. These vortices are a key part of the atmospheric circulation and impact heavily on dust and volatile transport. In particular, they have a complex and asymmetrical (north/south) relationship with atmospheric dust loading [1]. Re-gional and global dust events have been shown to cause rapid vortex displace-ment [2,3] in the northern vortex, while the southern vortex appears more robust.
Suspended atmospheric dust aerosol is a crucial active component of Mars’ at-mosphere, with significant radiative-dynamical effects through its scattering and absorption of radiation [5]. The exact nature of these effects depends on a vari-ety of factors: aerosol optical depth is important, as are the specific radiative properties of the aerosol particles [6,7], and the vertical distribution of the dust itself [8].
Mars Global Dust Storms (GDS) are spectacular, planet-spanning events which dramatically increase atmospheric dust loading. The 2018 GDS was ob-served through its lifecycle by the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [9]; using data assimilation [10] to inte-grate MCS retrievals [11] with the LMD-UK Mars Global Circulation Model (MGCM) [12] therefore offers an oppor-tunity to examine the effects of the GDS on the polar vortices, and the interplay between the factors described above. The reanalysis contains the MGCM’s best possible representation of the GDS geo-graphical, temporal, and in particular ver-tical structure.

Model and assimilation scheme: We use the LMD-UK Mars Global Circula-tion Model (MGCM), which solves the meteorological primitive equations of fluid dynamics, radiative and other pa-rameterised physics to calculate the state of the martian atmosphere [3,8]. The UK version of the MGCM possesses a spec-tral dynamical core and semi-Lagrangian advection scheme [13], and is a collabo-ration between the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, The Open University, the University of Oxford, and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia. The model was run at spectral spatial res-olution T42 and a vertical resolution of 50 levels, the latter spaced non-linearly. The assimilation scheme used was a mod-ified version of the Analysis Correction scheme developed at the Met Office, adapted for use on Mars [6].
Retrievals used: The retrievals used in this study are from the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) [4], which now has amassed over five full martian years’ worth of data. For this study, the assimilated MCS variables were temperatures, derived column dust optical depth (CDOD), and dust profiles. Temperature profiles extend from the surface to approximately 100 km, and dust profiles from as low as 10 km above the surface up to a maximum height of approximately 50 km. The retrieval ver-sion used is 5.2, a re-processing using updated 2D geometry [7]. This results in improved retrievals, especially in the po-lar regions.

Results: The 2018 GDS had large and asymmetric impacts on dynamics at both poles. This will be presented via changes in zonal winds and polar vorticity at both poles relative to a clear martian year, MY 30. The GDS provided a natural laborato-ry for testing the effects of equinoctial high dust loading on polar dynamics, al-lowing investigation of both how the po-lar atmosphere behaves in a clear year and under the case of extreme dust load-ing at this time of year. We present re-sults on the effects of the GDS on both southern and northern polar dynamics, with implications for tracer transport.
Discussion: The 2018 GDS dataset al-lows the opportunity for investigation of the polar dynamical effects of that specif-ic event, the first fully observed by MCS. The polar vortices and associated zonal jets act as a barrier for cross-vortex tracer transport; their weakening can therefore allow dust to be transported onto the sea-sonal CO2 ice caps. Understanding how these barriers work is therefore important for understanding the evolution of Mars’ past climate: the Mars’ ice caps contain a record of past dust deposition [e.g. 8].
Upcoming retrievals from the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter and its NOMAD spectrometer suite [9] will allow for fur-ther investigation of tracer transport and an opportunity to both cross-validate and jointly assimilate NOMAD and MCS data, including over a range of martian local times, which will enable investigation of the diurnal cycles of tracer transport and atmospheric dynamics at the poles.

Acknowledgements: PMS acknowl-edges support from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council under STFC grant ST/N50421X/1 and The Open University in the form of a PhD student-ship. SRL, MRP and JAH also acknowledge the support of the UK Space Agency and STFC under grants ST/R001405/1, ST/S00145X/1 and ST/P001262/1 and STFC under ST/P000657/1. The authors are particu-larly grateful for ongoing collaborations with Dan McCleese, David Kass and the MCS team (NASA-JPL) and with Peter Read (Oxford) and François Forget and colleagues (LMD/CNRS Paris).
References: [1] Waugh, D. W. et al (2016) J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, 1770-1785. [2] Guzewich, S. D. et al (2016) Icarus, 278, 100-118. [3] Mitch-ell, D. M. et al (2015) Q.J.R. Meteorol. Soc., 141, 550-562. [4] McCleese D. J. et al (2010) J. Geophys. Res., 115(E12016). [5] Gierasch P. J. and Goody R. M. (1972) J. Atmos. Sci., 29(2), 400-402. [6] Turco R. P. et al (1984) Scientific American, 251(2), 33-43. [7] Madeleine J.-B. et al (2011) JGR (Planets), 116 (E11010). [8] Tanaka, K. L. (2000), Icarus, 144(2), 254-266. [9] Patel, M. R. et al (2017), Appl. Opt., 56(10), 2771-2782.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions



  • Item ORO ID
  • 75588
  • Item Type
  • Conference or Workshop Item
  • Project Funding Details
  • Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
    STFC DTG 2015 - 2016 (2015 Intake)ST/N50421X/1STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council
    UPWARDSUPWARDS-633127Horizon 2020
    Characterizing the Martian water cycle by assimilating ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter dataST/R001405/1UKSA UK Space Agency
    Modelling and retrieval of martian dust, ice and ozone from ExoMars NOMAD dataST/P001262/1UKSA UK Space Agency
  • Keywords
  • Mars; polar vortex; dust storm; data assimilation; MCS; ACS; TGO
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Physical Sciences
    Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2020 Paul Streeter, © 2020 Stephen Lewis, © 2020 Manish Patel, © 2020 James Holmes
  • Depositing User
  • Paul Streeter