Large seasonal and hemispheric asymmetries in the martian climate system are generally ascribed to variations in solar heating associated with orbital eccentricity1. As the orbital elements slowly change (over a period of >104 years), characteristics of the climate such as dustiness and the vigour of atmospheric circulation are thought to vary2,3,4,5, as should asymmetries in the climate (for example, the deposition of water ice at the northern versus the southern pole). Such orbitally driven climate change might be responsible for the observed layering in Mars' polar deposits by modulating deposition of dust and water ice3,5,6. Most current theories assume that climate asymmetries completely reverse as the angular distance between equinox and perihelion changes by 180°. Here we describe a major climate mechanism that will not precess in this way. We show that Mars' global north–south elevation difference forces a dominant southern summer Hadley circulation that is independent of perihelion timing. The Hadley circulation, a tropical overturning cell responsible for trade winds, largely controls interhemispheric transport of water and the bulk dustiness of the atmosphere7,8,9,10,11. The topography therefore imprints a strong handedness on climate, with water ice and the active formation of polar layered deposits more likely in the north.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Space Science Reviews Open Access 08 February 2021
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Zurek, R. W. et al. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M. S.) 835–933 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1992).
Ward, W. R. Climatic variations on Mars. I. Astronomical theory of insolation. J. Geophys. Res. 97, 3375–3386 (1974).
Murray, B. C., Ward, W. R. & Yeung, S. C. Periodic insolation variations on Mars. Science 180, 638–640 (1973).
Kieffer, H. H. & Zent, A. P. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M. S.) 1180–1220 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1992).
Toon, O. B., Pollack, J. B., Ward, W., Burns, J. A. & Bilski, K. The astronomical theory of climate change on Mars. Icarus 44, 552–607 (1980).
Thomas, P., Squyres, S. W., Herkenhoff, K., Howard, A. & Murray, B. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M.) 767–798 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1992).
Haberle, R. M., Leovy, C. B. & Pollack, J. B. Some effects of global dust storms on the atmospheric circulation of Mars. Icarus 50, 322–367 (1982).
Wilson, R. J. & Hamilton, K. Comprehensive model simulation of thermal tide in the Martian atmosphere. J. Atmos. Sci. 53, 1290–1326 (1996).
Murphy, J. R. et al. Three-dimensional numerical simulation of Martian global dust storms. J. Geophys. Res. 100, 26357–26376 (1995).
Houben, H., Haberle, R. M., Young, R. E. & Zent, A. P. Modeling the Martian seasonal water cycle. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 9069–9083 (1997).
Richardson, M. I. & Wilson, R. J. Investigation of the nature and stability of the Martian seasonal water cycle with a general circulation model. J. Geophys. Res. (in the press).
Haberle, R. M. et al. Mars atmospheric dynamics as simulated by the NASA Ames general-circulation model. 1. The zonal-mean circulation. J. Geophys. Res. 98, 3093–3123 (1993).
Forget, F. et al. Improved general circulation models of the Martian atmosphere from the surface to above 80 km. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 24155–24175 (1999).
Oort, A. H. & Rasmussen, E. M. On the annual variation of the monthly mean meridional circulation. Mon. Weath. Rev. 98, 423–442 (1970).
Peixoto, J. P. & Oort, A. H. Physics of Climate (American Institute of Physics, New York, 1992).
Lindzen, R. S. & Hou, A. Y. Hadley circulation for zonally averaged heating centered off the equator. J. Atmos. Sci. 45, 2416–2427 (1988).
Smith, D. E. & Zuber, M. T. The shape of Mars and the topographic signature of the hemispheric dichotomy. Science 271, 184–188 (1996).
Smith, D. E. et al. The global topography of Mars and implications for surface evolution. Science 284, 1495–1503 (1999).
Haberle, R. M. et al. Mars general circulation model simulations with MOLA topography. Icarus (submitted).
Molnar, P. & Emanuel, K. A. Temperature profiles in radiative-convective equilibrium above surfaces at different heights. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 24265–24271 (1999).
Clancy, R. T. et al. Water vapor saturation at low altitudes around Mars aphelion: A key to Mars climate? Icarus 122, 36–62 (1996).
Richardson, M. I., Wilson, R. J. & Rodin, A. V. Water ice clouds in the Martian atmosphere: General circulation model experiments with a simple cloud scheme. J. Geophys. Res. (submitted).
Ward, W. R. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M. S.) 298–320 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1992).
Herkenhoff, K. E. & Plaut, J. J. Surface ages and resurfacing rates of the polar layered deposits on Mars. Icarus 144, 243–253 (2000).
Fenton, L. K. & Richardson, M. I. Martian surface winds: Insensitivity to orbital changes and implications for aeolian processes. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 32885–32902 (2001).
Jakosky, B. M., Henderson, B. G. & Mellon, M. T. The Mars water cycle at other epochs—Recent history of the polar caps and layered terrain. Icarus 102, 286–297 (1993).
Discussions were provided by K. Emanuel, I. Held, A. Ingersoll, T. Schneider, and Y. Yung. We thank P. Gierasch for comments on the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Richardson, M., Wilson, R. A topographically forced asymmetry in the martian circulation and climate. Nature 416, 298–301 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/416298a
Nature Astronomy (2021)
Space Science Reviews (2021)
Nature Geoscience (2013)
Space Science Reviews (2007)
Recent ice-rich deposits formed at high latitudes on Mars by sublimation of unstable equatorial ice during low obliquity