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Published March 21, 2002 | public
Journal Article

A topographically forced asymmetry in the martian circulation and climate


Large seasonal and hemispheric asymmetries in the martian climate system are generally ascribed to variations in solar heating associated with orbital eccentricity. As the orbital elements slowly change (over a period of >10^4 years), characteristics of the climate such as dustiness and the vigour of atmospheric circulation are thought to vary, as should asymmetries in the climate (for example, the deposition of water ice at the northern versus the southern pole). Such orbitally driven climate change might be responsible for the observed layering in Mars' polar deposits by modulating deposition of dust and water ice. Most current theories assume that climate asymmetries completely reverse as the angular distance between equinox and perihelion changes by 180°. Here we describe a major climate mechanism that will not precess in this way. We show that Mars' global north–south elevation difference forces a dominant southern summer Hadley circulation that is independent of perihelion timing. The Hadley circulation, a tropical overturning cell responsible for trade winds, largely controls interhemispheric transport of water and the bulk dustiness of the atmosphere. The topography therefore imprints a strong handedness on climate, with water ice and the active formation of polar layered deposits more likely in the north.

Additional Information

© 2002 Macmillan Magazines Ltd. Discussions were provided by K. Emanuel, I. Held, A. Ingersoll, T. Schneider, and Y. Yung. We thank P. Gierasch for comments on the manuscript.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023