Concept: Atmosphere of Mars
On Mars, locally warm surface temperatures (~293 K) occur, leading to the possibility of (transient) liquid water on the surface. However, water exposed to the martian atmosphere will boil, and the sediment transport capacity of such unstable water is not well understood. Here, we present laboratory studies of a newly recognized transport mechanism: “levitation” of saturated sediment bodies on a cushion of vapor released by boiling. Sediment transport where this mechanism is active is about nine times greater than without this effect, reducing the amount of water required to transport comparable sediment volumes by nearly an order of magnitude. Our calculations show that the effect of levitation could persist up to ~48 times longer under reduced martian gravity. Sediment levitation must therefore be considered when evaluating the formation of recent and present-day martian mass wasting features, as much less water may be required to form such features than previously thought.
Wind blowing over sand on Earth produces decimeter-wavelength ripples and hundred-meter- to kilometer-wavelength dunes: bedforms of two distinct size modes. Observations from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that Mars hosts a third stable wind-driven bedform, with meter-scale wavelengths. These bedforms are spatially uniform in size and typically have asymmetric profiles with angle-of-repose lee slopes and sinuous crest lines, making them unlike terrestrial wind ripples. Rather, these structures resemble fluid-drag ripples, which on Earth include water-worked current ripples, but on Mars instead form by wind because of the higher kinematic viscosity of the low-density atmosphere. A reevaluation of the wind-deposited strata in the Burns formation (about 3.7 billion years old or younger) identifies potential wind-drag ripple stratification formed under a thin atmosphere.