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Dune fields on Mars: Recorders of a climate change?

Abstract : Dunes have similar morphologies on the Earth and Mars. The main differences between Martian and terrestrial dunes are their size, which is larger on Mars, and their duration of formation, which is longer on Mars. As the characteristic time of Martian dunes is in the same order as that of the Martian climatic oscillations, Martian dunes could be recorders of past winds regimes and past climates. In order to test this hypothesis, we performed a morphological study of 550 dune fields with high resolution images and we inferred the directions of the dune formative winds from the orientation of the dune slip faces. Our study shows that 310 dune fields record one to four distinct wind directions with some geometric patterns that do not exist on the Earth such as barchans built by opposite wind directions coexisting in the same dune field. Our study demonstrates that the inferred formative wind directions are only partially in agreement with the current wind-patterns predicted by General Circulation Models (GCM). Several possible causes for the misalignment between dunes and GCM outputs are discussed: these include the local variation of the global circulation due to local topographic effects or the possibility that these dunes could be in a transient geometry or fossil. Such bedforms are considered indeed to be not in equilibrium with the present-day atmospheric conditions. This latter hypothesis is supported by the presence, in some ergs, of closely spaced dunes showing nearly opposite slip face orientations. Therefore, we propose that Martian dune fields are constituted, in some cases, by active and fossil dunes and therefore have the potential to preserve information on paleoclimates over extensive periods.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 3:36:34 PM
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Emilie Gardin, Pascal Allemand, Cathy Quantin, Simone Silvestro, Christophe Delacourt. Dune fields on Mars: Recorders of a climate change?. Planetary and Space Science, Elsevier, 2012, 60, pp.314-321. ⟨10.1016/j.pss.2011.10.004⟩. ⟨insu-00643680⟩



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