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Published July 7, 2005 | public
Journal Article

Aeolian processes at the Mars Exploration Rover Meridiani Planum landing site


The martian surface is a natural laboratory for testing our understanding of the physics of aeolian (wind-related) processes in an environment different from that of Earth. Martian surface markings and atmospheric opacity are time-variable, indicating that fine particles at the surface are mobilized regularly by wind. Regolith (unconsolidated surface material) at the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's landing site has been affected greatly by wind, which has created and reoriented bedforms, sorted grains, and eroded bedrock. Aeolian features here preserve a unique record of changing wind direction and wind strength. Here we present an in situ examination of a martian bright wind streak, which provides evidence consistent with a previously proposed formational model for such features. We also show that a widely used criterion for distinguishing between aeolian saltation- and suspension-dominated grain behaviour is different on Mars, and that estimated wind friction speeds between 2 and 3 m s⁻¹, most recently from the northwest, are associated with recent global dust storms, providing ground truth for climate model predictions.

Additional Information

© 2005 Nature Publishing Group. Received 23 November 2004; Accepted 12 April 2005; Issue Date 07 July 2005. This work was performed for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We are grateful for the efforts of the Mars Exploration Rover development and operations teams that made this work possible. We acknowledge the use of Mars Orbiter Camera images processed by Malin Space Science Systems that are available at http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/. Authors Contributions: J.F.B. and W.C. provided Pancam and MiniTES analyses, respectively, of bright streak material. W.A.W. measured all rock tails. D.F. discovered the time dependence of wind streak orientations in MOC images. D.M. reviewed the APXS linear mixing work of R.S. R.S. also measured the ripple orientations, calculated u*t and u values, worked out the aeolian history of the site, identified the discrepancy between particle size of basaltic ripples and u_F/u*_t ratio, and drafted the original and revised manuscripts. D.J. contributed key points relating to deflation at the site. R.S., D.J. and D.B. worked on potential explanations for the low u_F/u*_t ratio mobility of the basaltic sand. L.A.S. led the Science Operations Working Group during the bright streak rover operations. A.Y. advised on APXS calibration issues. All authors, particularly M.M., provided significant scientific guidance and/or editorial inputs. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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