Earth-like sand fluxes on Mars


Strong and sustained winds on Mars have been considered rare, on the basis of surface meteorology measurements and global circulation models1,2, raising the question of whether the abundant dunes and evidence for wind erosion seen on the planet are a current process. Recent studies3,4,5,6 showed sand activity, but could not determine whether entire dunes were moving—implying large sand fluxes—or whether more localized and surficial changes had occurred. Here we present measurements of the migration rate of sand ripples and dune lee fronts at the Nili Patera dune field. We show that the dunes are near steady state, with their entire volumes composed of mobile sand. The dunes have unexpectedly high sand fluxes, similar, for example, to those in Victoria Valley, Antarctica, implying that rates of landscape modification on Mars and Earth are similar.

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Figure 1: Ripple migration, dune migration and dune elevation.
Figure 2: Linear correlation between ripple migration and dune height.
Figure 3: Dune migration rates.
Figure 4: Comparison of dune migration rates and sand flux on Mars and Earth.


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Discussions with R. Ewing, C. Narteau, and S. Silvestro on bedforms and R. Kirk on stereo data significantly improved this research. This research was supported by grants from NASA’s Mars Data Analysis Program, the Keck Institute for Space Studies, and seed funding from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Director's Research and Development Fund.

Author information




N.T.B. is the principal investigator of the NASA MDAP grant that partially funded this work, chose the study area, defined major science questions, participated in data analysis, compared results to other Mars and terrestrial data, and led the writing of the paper. F.A. processed all the data with COSI-Corr, produced the figures and Supplementary Information ancillary materials, and played a major role in quantitative analysis and text writing. J-P.A. initiated the project, contributed fundamental ideas on sand flux and dune movement, supervised the data analysis and contributed to text writing. S.L. evaluated all COSI-Corr and quantitative results. A.L. provided expertise in interpretation of bedform movement and sand flux in regards to Mars surface evolution and climate models. S. M. produced the digital elevation model. All authors shared ideas and results and helped produce the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to N. T. Bridges.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-4, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1-2, Supplementary Text and Data and additional references. (PDF 3362 kb)

Supplementary Animation 1

This file contains an animated gif of a sub area of T1 and T2 illustrating the accurate bedrock registration and clear ripple migration. (GIF 369 kb)

Supplementary Animation 2

This file shows Lee front advance (label b on Figure 1) seen in 941 Earth days between image T2 and S1. Lee front advance and bedrock exposure on the stoss side can be observed (white arrows). (GIF 1384 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This movie shows the T1 image wrapped on the topography extracted from S1 and S2. Note the vertical exaggeration. (MPG 5152 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

This movie shows the shaded bedrock-only topography. The bedrock was interpolated beneath the dunes following the method described in SOM Methods: Dune height extraction. (MP4 29559 kb)

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Bridges, N., Ayoub, F., Avouac, JP. et al. Earth-like sand fluxes on Mars. Nature 485, 339–342 (2012).

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