Evaluation of Surface Slope Effects on Ripple Orientations Observed on Sand Dunes in the Terra Tyrrhena Region of Mars

Thursday, 18 December 2014
James R Zimbelman and Molly B Johnson, Smithsonian Inst, Washington, DC, United States
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) has revealed abundant wind ripples on sand dunes across Mars. Ripple orientations have been documented using HiRISE images of sand dunes at 24 widely distributed sites across Mars, in order to identify the last significant wind directions at these locations. Howard (GSAB, 1977) gives a mathematical expression for how surface slopes on a sand dune can affect the orientation of ripples with respect to the formative winds. In order to evaluate this mechanism for measured ripple orientations on Mars, quantitative data for surface slopes on the sand dunes is required. Stereo pairs of HiRISE images are used to generate Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) with postings of one meter. In June 2014 we produced a DTM of sand dunes in the Terra Tyrrhena region of Mars (14.55° S, 97.77° E) using SOCET SET at the Astrogeology Branch, USGS-Flagstaff. Typically it is difficult for feature matching software to work well on sand dunes, but our stereo images (ESP_022609_1655 and ESP_026675_1655) were obtained only six Earth days apart under excellent illumination conditions. The Terra Tyrrhena DTM had remarkably few artifacts on the sand dunes (except at slip faces, where the average slope between slip face crest and base was interpolated) and excellent control from irregular terrain exposed in interdune areas. Slopes on the stoss sides of sand dunes are generally <10°; the Howard equation indicates ripple deflection angles should be <17° with respect to the actual surface wind direction. We are adjusting documented ripple orientations to account for surface slopes utilizing the DTM data, and so far we do not see major changes to inferred surface wind directions that would be derived directly from the ripple orientations.