A Possible Influence of Solar System Dynamics on the Circulation of the Mars Atmosphere

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:00 PM
James H Shirley, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
The inter-annual variability of the Mars atmosphere is dominated by the occasional occurrence of global-scale dust storms (GDS) in the southern summer season. The intermittent occurrence of such storms represents a major unsolved problem of atmospheric physics. To aid in studying these events, we have compiled a catalog of Mars years including such storms (n=9) and Mars years without global-scale storms (n=11) through the year 2013. We use these samples to explore the question of a possible relationship linking GDS occurrence with the variability of the orbital angular momentum of Mars with respect to the solar system barycenter (LMars). We find that a remarkably simple and direct relationship links the occurrence and non-occurrence of GDS on Mars with the variability of this dynamical quantity. All of the GDS became planet encircling during periods when LMars was increasing or near maxima. Statistical significance is obtained for the clustering tendencies of LMars waveform phases for key subsets of the catalog, including the mid-season storms (as defined below) and the years without storms. A systematic progression is found in the phasing of the LMars waveforms with respect to the annual cycle of solar irradiance for the following three GDS categories: The early season GDS (1977 and 2001, initiating near Ls=204° and Ls=185° respectively), the mid-season storms (1956, 1971, 1982, 1994, and 2007; Ls=208° through Ls=262°), and the late season GDS (1924 and 1973, Ls=310° and Ls=300°).  Rising values of LMars immediately prior to and during the Mars dust storm season appear to be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the initiation of GDS events. Factors internal to the Mars climate system, including the spatial redistribution of dust from year to year, also appear to play an important role in determining whether a GDS may occur in any particular Mars year. A testable physical hypothesis has recently been formulated, and an effort is now underway to more fully quantify and characterize the response of the Mars atmosphere to this aspect of solar system dynamical variability [Mischna et al., this meeting]. This work was performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.