Study of aeolian transport in the equatorial regions of Mars

Project realized by:

Jagiellonian University (Faculties: FAIS and GIG)

Aim of the project:

Determining conditions necessary for aeolian transport initiation, termination, and establishing transport direction and transport rates in equatorial regions of Mars.

Description of the project:

During exploration of the Solar System, astronomers have found that the surfaces of many objects in our vicinity are shaped by wind. Bedforms related with deposition of sediments, like dunes or wind streaks, so common on our planet, were identified on Mars, Venus, Titan, Pluto, and even 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.

Even after many years that passed since the work of Bagnold: The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes published in 1941 some fundamental issues related to granular sediment transport, e.g. dynamical mechanisms responsible for initiating and limiting transport in fluids are still not fully understood. The Martian missions give us an opportunity to study these processes in a totally different environment, and such comparison studies allow for broader perspective on investigating the physics of sediment transport and perhaps finding answers to the most important questions.

In this project, we focus on sediments composed of gravel, sand and dust, and studying small bedforms, as they usually evolve much faster than larger forms; they are much easier to simulate, and their evolution under different wind conditions is still not well understood. We investigate Mars equatorial regions, as due to higher insolation and temperatures, they are the most important areas for future Mars exploration. The project will be based on data gathered by Martian orbiters and collected by rovers and landers of recently completed and ongoing missions.

To investigate aeolian transport on Mars, we conduct experiments in the wind tunnel and numerical simulations. We also carry out field studies of Martian analogues, that is, forms, sediments and phenomena similar to those observed on Mars, to investigate factors influencing aeolian transport in the natural environment. The analysis of images taken during Mars missions from orbiters and rovers allows determining the spatial distribution and physical properties of the forms and sediments found on Mars.

Project methodology:

  • Numerical simulations using a developed dedicated physics engine to which the boundary conditions are supplied from the model of global and regional atmospheric circulation of Mars
  • Theoretical fluid mechanics – calculations and simulations conducted in Matlab, and Mathematica, and in the dedicated physics engine
  • Laboratory simulations in the wind tunnel for verification of the numerical models
  • Laboratory work – preparation of materials for tunnel tests in sedimentary laboratories: sieves, Mastersizer, Malvern Morphologi G3
  • Field work on Mars analogues, e.g. in Iceland, USA, Morocco
  • Geomorphological mapping of selected regions on Mars, based on images from space missions such as MRO, MER, MSL
  • Transport studies: the rate and direction of movement of aeolian sediments and bedforms, and time rates of aeolian deflation, based on satellite images using GIS methods, and dedicated algorithms to track changes in images taken at a certain interval of time
  • Study the granulometry and shape of aeolian deposits on Mars based on microscopic images obtained during Mars missions, using dedicated image processing algorithms
  • Study of daily and seasonal changes in meteorological data from InSight and MSL missions