Simulation of the atmospheric thermal circulation of a martian volcano using a mesoscale numerical model

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 07 November 2002


Mesoscale (<100 km) atmospheric phenomena are ubiquitous on Mars, as revealed by Mars Orbiter Camera images1,2,3. Numerical models provide an important means of investigating martian atmospheric dynamics, for which data availability is limited. But the resolution of general circulation models, which are traditionally used for such research, is not sufficient to resolve mesoscale phenomena4,5,6. To provide better understanding of these relatively small-scale phenomena, mesoscale models have recently been introduced7,8,9. Here we simulate the mesoscale spiral dust cloud observed over the caldera of the volcano Arsia Mons by using the Mars Regional Atmospheric Modelling System. Our simulation uses a hierarchy of nested models with grid sizes ranging from 240 km to 3 km, and reveals that the dust cloud is an indicator of a greater but optically thin thermal circulation that reaches heights of up to 30 km, and transports dust horizontally over thousands of kilometres.

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Figure 1: Mars Orbiter Camera image of a spiral dust cloud observed above the caldera of Arsia Mons.
Figure 2: Topography and domain size for the first two computational grids.
Figure 3: The spiral dust cloud simulated by the Mars Regional Atmospheric Modelling System (MRAMS), as seen on the fourth computational grid, which encompasses the caldera of Arsia Mons.
Figure 4: A vertical, east–west cross-section from grid two, cutting through the centre of Arsia Mons.


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We thank Malin Space Science Systems and M. Malin for permitting the use of MOC imagery before release on Planetary Data System. We also thank A. Bridger for comments and suggestions. This work was supported by the NASA Planetary Atmosphere Program, the Mars Data Analysis Program and the Mars Global Surveyor Data Analysis Program.

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Correspondence to Scot C. R. Rafkin.

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Rafkin, S., Sta. Maria, M. & Michaels, T. Simulation of the atmospheric thermal circulation of a martian volcano using a mesoscale numerical model. Nature 419, 697–699 (2002).

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