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Widespread Megaripple Activity Across the North Polar Ergs of Mars
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  • Matthew Chojnacki,
  • David Alegre Vaz,
  • Simone Silvestro,
  • David C.A. Silva
Matthew Chojnacki
Planetary Science Institute

Corresponding Author:mchojnacki@psi.edu

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David Alegre Vaz
Centre for Earth and Space Research of the University of Coimbra
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Simone Silvestro
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David C.A. Silva
Centre for Earth and Space Research of the University of Coimbra
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The most expansive dune fields on Mars surround the northern polar cap where various aeolian bedform classes are modified by wind and ice. The morphology and dynamics of these ripples, intermediate-scale bedforms (termed megaripples and transverse aeolian ridges (TARs)), and sand dunes reflect information regarding regional boundary conditions. We found that populations of polar megaripples and larger TARs are distinct in terms of their morphology, spatial distribution, and mobility. Whereas regionally-restricted TARs appeared degraded and static in long-baseline observations, polar megaripples were not only widespread but migrating at relatively high rates (0.13± 0.03 m/yr) and possibly more active than other regions on Mars. This high level of activity is somewhat surprising since there is limited seasonality for aeolian transport due to surficial frost and ice during the latter half of the martian year. A comprehensive analysis of an Olympia Cavi dune field estimated that the advancement of megaripples, ripples, and dunes avalanches accounted for ~1%, ~10%, and ~100%, respectively, of the total aeolian system’s sand fluxes. This included dark-toned ripples that migrated the average equivalent of 9.6±6 m/yr over just 22 days in northern summer - unprecedented rates for Mars. While bedform transport rates are some of the highest yet reported on Mars, the sand flux contribution between the different bedforms does not substantially vary from equatorial sites with lower rates. Seasonal off-cap sublimation winds and summer-time polar storms are attributed as the cause for the elevated activity, rather than cryospheric processes.
Dec 2021Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets volume 126 issue 12. 10.1029/2021JE006970