Vortex-Dominated Aeolian Activity at InSight's Landing Site, Part 2: Local Meteorology, Transport Dynamics, and Model Analysis

Research areas:
aeolian sediment transport, Mars surface processes, threshold conditions, vortex dynamics
  • M. Baker
  • C. Newman
  • C. Charalambous
  • M. Golombek
  • A. Spiga
  • D. Banfield
  • M. Lemmon
  • M. Banks
  • R. Lorenz
  • J. Garvin
  • J. Grant
  • K. Lewis
  • Véronique Ansan
  • N. Warner
  • C. Weitz
  • S. Wilson
  • S. Rodriguez
Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets
e2020JE006514 2020JE006514
Abstract Geologic and climatic processes on modern-day Mars are heavily influenced by aeolian surface activity, yet the relationship between atmospheric conditions and sediment mobilization is not well understood. The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft is uniquely able to address this issue, due to its joint imaging and continuous high-frequency meteorological capabilities, which allow for direct comparison between surface activity and atmospheric conditions. Since landing in the volcanic plains of Elysium Planitia, InSight's camera's have recorded intermittent, small-scale surface changes, including removal of fine material on the lander footpad, linear tracks and localized surface darkening caused by minor dust removal, and surface creep of granules, as presented in Part 1 (Charalambous et al., 2021, this issue). Surface activity is found to correlate well with the timing of abrupt pressure drops (ΔP ∼ 1–9 Pa) and transient wind gusts (v ∼ 14–31 m/s) associated with convective vortex passage. Here we identify the major erosive forces acting on surface particles during these events, including the vertical pressure gradient force at the vortex core and the drag force generated by quickly-rotating tangential winds. Orbital and ground-truth data suggest that aeolian activity at InSight's landing site is sporadic under modern climatic conditions. Ongoing aeolian surface modifcation is driven primarily by turbulent vortices that sporadically lift dust and redistribute coarser sediment (i.e., sand and granules) but do not aid in the development of organized aeolian bedforms. Surface erosion is localized within the path these vortices take across the surface which is controlled by seasonally-reversing background circulation patterns.