Effect of Upper Atmospheric Water on Martian Photochemistry and Water Loss

Friday, 19 December 2014
Michael Chaffin, Justin Deighan, Ian F Stewart and Nicholas McCord Schneider, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder, CO, United States
Volatile loss to space may have dominated the history of the Martian climate, removing a substantial fraction of the water initially present on the planet over the last four billion years. Until recently, the atomic H component of this loss was thought to be relatively constant in time, based on arguments from Mariner data that the source of the escaping H was molecular hydrogen, with an atmospheric lifetime of decades. New data gathered by the SPectroscopy for the Investigation of the Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars (SPICAM) instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission has shown that H escape varies by more than an order of magnitude in Fall 2007 alone, requiring a different parent molecule for the escaping atomic H.

Using a completely new 1D time-dependent photochemical model of the Martian atmosphere, we investigate the effect of transient upper atmospheric water vapor on H and O escape to space and the abundance of minor species throughout the atmosphere. We demonstrate that detached water layers between 40-100 km, recently discovered by the infrared channel of SPICAM, produce an order of magnitude increase in the escape rate of H from the Martian atmosphere to space on a timescale of months. This provides an explanation for the observed H escape variation, adding to evidence that the upper, middle, and lower atmosphere of Mars are more tightly coupled in time than was previously expected. Implications for MAVEN measurements and for reconstructing the history of Martian water loss and the oxidation state of the crust will be discussed.

Support for this work was provided by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program, Award Number NNX11AP49H.