Sedimentation waves on the Martian North Polar Cap: Analogy with megadunes in Antarctica

Research areas:
Year:
2014
Authors:
Journal:
EARTH AND PLANETARY SCIENCE LETTERS
Volume:
403
Pages:
56-66
Month:
OCT 1
ISSN:
0012-821X
Abstract:
Complex interactions between katabatic winds and the cryosphere may lead to the formation of sedimentation waves at the surface of ice sheets. These have been first described and named snow megadunes in Antarctica. Here we use topographic data, optical images, subsurface radar soundings and spectroscopic data acquired by Mars orbiters, to show that the surface of the Martian North Polar Cap displays two superimposed sets of sedimentation waves with differing wavelengths. These sedimentation waves have similarities with Antarctic snow megadunes regarding their surface morphology, texture, grain size asymmetry, and internal stratigraphic architecture. Both sets of Martian sedimentation waves present young ice and occasional sastrugi fields, indicative of net accumulation, on their shallow-dipping upwind sides, their tops and the intervening troughs. Old layers of dusty ice, indicative of net ablation, are exhumed on the steep-dipping downwind sides of the larger waves. Smooth surfaces of coarse-grained ice, indicative of reduced accumulation associated with sublimation metamorphism, cover the steep-dipping downwind sides of the smaller waves. These surface characteristics and the internal stratigraphy revealed by radar soundings are consistent with the interpretation that both sets of Martian sedimentation waves grow and migrate upwind in response to the development of periodic accumulation/ablation patterns controlled by katabatic winds. The recognition of these sedimentation waves provides the basis for the development of a common model of ice/wind interaction at the surface of Martian and terrestrial glaciers. Martian smaller waves, characterized by reduced net accumulation on their downwind sides, are analogous to Antarctic snow megadunes that have been described so far. A terrestrial equivalent remains to be discovered for the larger Martian waves, characterized by net ablation on their downwind sides. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.