Volume 387, 15 November 2022, 115183

Research Paper
Cellular patterns and dry convection in textured dust storms at the edge of Mars North Polar Cap

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Mars springtime dust storms at the edge of North Polar Cap show textured organized patterns at different scales.

Front-like and spiral cyclonic vortices originate from baroclinic instability in the intense high latitude zonal jet.

Mesoscale dry convection generates fields of cellular patterns ~10 km in size that reach ~5–10 km heights.


We present a study of textured local dust storms that develop at the northern polar cap boundary on Mars springtime. We have used images obtained with VMC and HRSC cameras onboard Mars Express and MARCI on MRO to analyze dust storms captured from March to July 2019 (Ls = 350° in MY 34–Ls = 54° in MY 35). The textured storms grow in the longitude sector 150°E-210°E centered at latitude ~60°N and exhibit spiral, filamentary and compact shapes that change and evolve rapidly in a daily basis. The storms translate by prevailing east and southeast winds with speeds 15–45 ms−1. In some areas of their interiors they show organized clusters of cells formed typically by 100 elements with sizes ~5–30 km with a length/width ratio ~ 1.2–3 in the wind direction. The cells have elongated downwind tails with lengths 4–8 times the cell size. The cells top altitudes are ~6–11 km above their surroundings. We propose that the spirals grow as baroclinic vortices within a vertically sheared eastward jet present at this epoch in Mars due to the intense meridional temperature gradient at the polar cap edge. We show using a simple one-dimensional model that the cells can be produced by shallow dry convection with dust acting as the heating source to generate the updrafts. These patterns resemble those seen in laboratory experiments and on clouds in Earth's atmosphere and can serve to comparatively elucidate and discern the different mechanisms at work in each case.


Atmospheric dynamics
Dust storms
Cellular Convection

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