Intense polar temperature inversion in the middle atmosphere on Mars
Current understanding of weather, climate and global atmospheric circulation on Mars is incomplete, in particular at altitudes above about 30 km. General circulation models for Mars [1,2,3,4,5,6] are similar to those developed for weather and climate forecasting on Earth and require more martian observations to allow testing and model improvements. However, the available measurements of martian atmospheric temperatures, winds, water vapour and airborne dust are generally restricted to the region close to the surface and lack the vertical resolution and global coverage that is necessary to shed light on the dynamics of Mars' middle atmosphere at altitudes between 30 and 80 km (ref. 7). Here we report high-resolution observations from the Mars Climate Sounder instrument  on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter . These observations show an intense warming of the middle atmosphere over the south polar region in winter that is at least 10–20 K warmer than predicted by current model simulations. To explain this finding, we suggest that the atmospheric downwelling circulation over the pole, which is part of the equator-to-pole Hadley circulation, may be as much as 50% more vigorous than expected, with consequences for the cycles of water, dust and CO2 that regulate the present-day climate on Mars.
© 2008 Nature Publishing Group. Received 16 June 2008; accepted 16 August 2008; published 12 October 2008. The authors acknowledge J. Shirley, C. Backus, T. Pavlicek and E. Sayfi for their contribution to the acquisition and analysis of MCS data. The research described in this letter was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in the UK with the support of the Science, Technology and Facilities Council.