Northern polar dunes: a spring activity analog to that seen in southern polar terrains


The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Or-biter (MRO) is presently (February 2010) observing its second northern spring on Mars. Com-plimentary spectral information from CRISM is available to gain insight into the composition and physical state of the surface. In the north polar areas, there are active regions. Here, dark dunes extend almost circumferen-tially around the permanent polar cap. This area exhibits phenomena similar to those observed in south polar areas in southern spring. Among these phenomena are cracks in a translucent ice layer which are considered to be manifestations of ice damage by increasing pressure at the interface between the ice layer and substrate underlying it [1]. Bright and dark fans, attributed to cold jet activity, are also observed on top of dunes [2]. The presence of these features indi-cates that dunes are covered by a conformal ice layer and that this layer is at least partially transparent to solar radiation. CO2 ice sublimation and processes connected to it appear to produce a variety of observable features. Yet another distinctive feature observed in this area (and rarely present in the south) is the presence of dark slope streaks on dunes. They originate from the crests of dunes and run down following the gravitational potential. They lengthen as the season progresses. Their origin has been discussed to be possible liquid brine flows [3, 4]. In the present work we report on indications that these slope streaks are instead dry mass wasting process. Due to geometry of solar illumination at local latitude the energy input on the crest is higher than in the valley between dunes. The ice cover thins most quickly in areas closest to the crest. In addition, applying stress distribution calculations to the conformal ice layer on realistic dune geometry, we show that the crest of the dune is the weakest point for the ice bending stress. The rupture of the ice layer therefore happens close to the dune’s crest on the slip face and is followed by the escape of dry dune material from its top layer downslope. Streaks are overlaid on the ice layer and produce the observed contrast changes. Seasonal lengthening of the streaks can be attributed to the repeatability of this process when more and more dune material gets freed from the ice layer. An enhancement of this effect can occur if the rupture of the ice layer gives rise to an escape of gas trapped under it. The gas pressure, in this case, is produced by the same process that is proposed for araneiform formation in south polar areas [5]. Gas movement mobilises fine dune material and transports it towards the slip slope whereupon it runs down the slope. The described model does not involve liquid flows but is nonetheless fully consistent with HiRISE observations of this phenomenon. [1] G. Portyankina et al., 2010, 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Abstract #2671 [2] C. Hansen et al., 2010, 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Abstract #2029 [3] D. Moehlmann, 2008, Icarus, 195:131-139. [4] A. Kereszturi et al., 2009, Icarus 201:492-503. [5] H. Kieffer, 2007, JGR, 112.

38th COSPAR Scientific Assembly
Michael Aye
Michael Aye
Research Scientist in Planetary Science

My research interests include remote sensing of surfaces, related machine learning studies and open source software.