We have developed an observational scheme for the detection and discrimination of Mars atmospheric H2O and CO2 clouds using ground-based instruments in the near infrared. We report the results of our cloud detection and characterization study using Mars near IR images obtained during the 1990 and 1993 oppositions. We focused on specific wavelengths that have the potential, based on previous laboratory studies of H2O and CO2 ices, of yielding the greatest degree of cloud detectability and compositional discriminability. We have detected and mapped absorption features at some of these wavelengths in both the northern and southern polar regions of Mars. Compositional information on the nature of these absorption features was derived from comparisons with laboratory ice spectra and with a simplified radiative transfer model of a CO2 ice cloud overlying a bright surface. Our results indicate that both H2O and CO2 ices can be detected and distinguished in the polar hood clouds. The region near 3.00 ??m is most useful for the detection of water ice clouds because there is a strong H2O ice absorption at this wavelength but only a weak CO2 ice band. The region near 3.33 ??m is most useful for the detection of CO2 ice clouds because there is a strong, relatively narrow CO2 ice band at this wavelength but only broad "continuum" H2O ice absorption. Weaker features near 2.30 ??m could arise from CO2 ice at coarse grain sizes, or surface/dust minerals. Narrow features near 2.00 ??m, which could potentially be very diagnostic of CO2 ice clouds, suffer from contamination by Mars atmospheric CO2 absorptions and are difficult to interpret because of the rather poor knowledge of surface elevation at high latitudes. These results indicate that future ground-based, Earth-orbital, and spacecraft studies over a more extended span of the seasonal cycle should yield substantial information on the style and timing of volatile transport on Mars, as well as a more detailed understanding of the role of CO2 condensation in the polar heat budget. Copyright 1996 by the American Geophysical Union.