Abstract

Although it contains less water vapour than Earth’s atmosphere, the Martian atmosphere hosts clouds. These clouds, composed of water-ice particles, influence the global transport of water vapour and the seasonal variations of ice deposits. However, the influence of water-ice clouds on local weather is unclear: it is thought that Martian clouds are devoid of moist convective motions, and snow precipitation occurs only by the slow sedimentation of individual particles. Here we present numerical simulations of the meteorology in Martian cloudy regions that demonstrate that localized convective snowstorms can occur on Mars. We show that such snowstorms—or ice microbursts—can explain deep night-time mixing layers detected from orbit and precipitation signatures detected below water-ice clouds by the Phoenix lander. In our simulations, convective snowstorms occur only during the Martian night, and result from atmospheric instability due to radiative cooling of water-ice cloud particles. This triggers strong convective plumes within and below clouds, with fast snow precipitation resulting from the vigorous descending currents. Night-time convection in Martian water-ice clouds and the associated snow precipitation lead to transport of water both above and below the mixing layers, and thus would affect Mars’ water cycle past and present, especially under the high-obliquity conditions associated with a more intense water cycle.

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Acknowledgements

All model runs were carried out on the ‘mésocentre ESPRI’ computing facilities (ciclad cluster) in Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace (IPSL). A.S., J.-B.M., T.N., E.M., F.F. and F.M. acknowledge financial support for development of Martian atmospheric models and climate databases by European Space Agency (ESA) and Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES). A.S. acknowledges Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) for welcoming him in a part-time délégation position in 2014–2015 when the present study was initiated. A.S. acknowledges members from the ‘Earth Climate Modeling’ team at Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique for expertise on terrestrial moist convection.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique/Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace (LMD/IPSL), Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ Paris 06, PSL Research University, École Normale Supérieure, Université Paris-Saclay, École Polytechnique, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 75005 Paris, France

    • Aymeric Spiga
    • , Jean-Baptiste Madeleine
    • , Thomas Navarro
    • , Ehouarn Millour
    •  & François Forget
  2. Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • David P. Hinson
  3. SETI Institute, Mountain View, California 94043, USA

    • David P. Hinson
  4. Laboratoire ATmosphère Milieux Observations Spatiales/Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace (LATMOS/IPSL), Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ Paris 06, Université Paris-Saclay, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 78280 Guyancourt, France

    • Franck Montmessin

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Contributions

All authors contributed to the scientific discussions and manuscript writing. A.S. designed the study, developed the mesoscale model and Large-Eddy Simulations (LES) for Mars, performed all computer runs, and led manuscript writing. D.P.H. provided and analysed the radio-occultations measurements of night-time mixing layers. J.-B.M. and F.F. developed and validated the radiative model for dust and water-ice particles. T.N. and J.-B.M. developed and validated the microphysical water-ice cloud model. E.M. led the development and validation of the physical packages in the Global Climate Model and mesoscale model. F.F. and F.M. provided expertise on atmospheric modelling of Martian water-ice clouds.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aymeric Spiga.

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