Southern high latitude dune fields on Mars: Morphology, aeolian inactivity, and climate change


DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2009.11.006



In a study area spanning the martian surface poleward of 50?? S., 1190 dune fields have been identified, mapped, and categorized based on dune field morphology. Dune fields in the study area span ??? 116400km2, leading to a global dune field coverage estimate of ???904000km2, far less than that found on Earth. Based on distinct morphological features, the dune fields were grouped into six different classes that vary in interpreted aeolian activity level from potentially active to relatively inactive and eroding. The six dune field classes occur in specific latitude zones, with a sequence of reduced activity and degradation progressing poleward. In particular, the first signs of stabilization appear at ???60?? S., which broadly corresponds to the edge of high concentrations of water-equivalent hydrogen content (observed by the Neutron Spectrometer) that have been interpreted as ground ice. This near-surface ground ice likely acts to reduce sand availability in the present climate state on Mars, stabilizing high latitude dunes and allowing erosional processes to change their morphology. As a result, climatic changes in the content of near-surface ground ice are likely to influence the level of dune activity. Spatial variation of dune field classes with longitude is significant, suggesting that local conditions play a major role in determining dune field activity level. Dune fields on the south polar layered terrain, for example, appear either potentially active or inactive, indicating that at least two generations of dune building have occurred on this surface. Many dune fields show signs of degradation mixed with crisp-brinked dunes, also suggesting that more than one generation of dune building has occurred since they originally formed. Dune fields superposed on early and late Amazonian surfaces provide potential upper age limits of ???100My on the south polar layered deposits and ???3Ga elsewhere at high latitudes. No craters are present on any identifiable dune fields, which can provide a lower age limit through crater counting: assuming all relatively stabilized dune fields represent a single noncontiguous surface of uniform age, their estimated crater retention age is <???10000years. An average-sized uncratered dune field (94km2) has a crater retention age <???8My. This apparent youth suggests that present-day climate conditions are responsible for the observed degradation and reduced level of aeolian activity. A lack of observed transport pathways and the absence of large dune fields in the largest basins (Hellas and Argyre Planitiae) are consistent with the previously proposed idea that dune sands are not typically transported far from their source regions on Mars. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V.

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