Global dust storms on Mars are rare1,2 but can affect the Martian atmosphere for several months. They can cause changes in atmospheric dynamics and inflation of the atmosphere3, primarily owing to solar heating of the dust3. In turn, changes in atmospheric dynamics can affect the distribution of atmospheric water vapour, with potential implications for the atmospheric photochemistry and climate on Mars4. Recent observations of the water vapour abundance in the Martian atmosphere during dust storm conditions revealed a high-altitude increase in atmospheric water vapour that was more pronounced at high northern latitudes5,6, as well as a decrease in the water column at low latitudes7,8. Here we present concurrent, high-resolution measurements of dust, water and semiheavy water (HDO) at the onset of a global dust storm, obtained by the NOMAD and ACS instruments onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. We report the vertical distribution of the HDO/H2O ratio (D/H) from the planetary boundary layer up to an altitude of 80 kilometres. Our findings suggest that before the onset of the dust storm, HDO abundances were reduced to levels below detectability at altitudes above 40 kilometres. This decrease in HDO coincided with the presence of water-ice clouds. During the storm, an increase in the abundance of H2O and HDO was observed at altitudes between 40 and 80 kilometres. We propose that these increased abundances may be the result of warmer temperatures during the dust storm causing stronger atmospheric circulation and preventing ice cloud formation, which may confine water vapour to lower altitudes through gravitational fall and subsequent sublimation of ice crystals3. The observed changes in H2O and HDO abundance occurred within a few days during the development of the dust storm, suggesting a fast impact of dust storms on the Martian atmosphere.
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The datasets generated by the NOMAD and ACS instruments and analysed in this study will be available in the ESA PSA repository, https://archives.esac.esa.int/psa, after the proprietary period. The datasets used directly in this study, including the data used for the figures, are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
The codes used to calculate the dust/aerosol optical depths shown in Fig. 1 are available upon request from the corresponding author. The code used to inverse the NOMAD and ACS spectra and derive density profiles has been favourably compared to the PSG tool, which can be accessed at https://psg.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and which is part of this study. A version of the retrieval code is available at https://psg.gsfc.nasa.gov/helpatm.php#retrieval.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
ExoMars is a space mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos. The NOMAD experiment is led by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (IASB-BIRA), assisted by Co-Principal Investigator teams from Spain (IAA-CSIC), Italy (INAF-IAPS) and the UK (Open University). This project acknowledges funding by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO), with financial and contractual coordination by the ESA Prodex Office (PEA 4000103401, 4000121493); by the Spanish MICINN through its Plan Nacional and by European funds under grants ESP2015-65064-C2-1-P and ESP2017-87143-R (MINECO/FEDER); by the UK Space Agency through grants ST/R005761/1, ST/P001262/1, ST/R001405/1, ST/S00145X/1, ST/R001367/1, ST/P001572/1 and ST/R001502/1; and the Italian Space Agency through grant 2018-2-HH.0. The IAA/CSIC team acknowledges financial support from the State Agency for Research of the Spanish MCIU through the ‘Center of Excellence Severo Ochoa’ award for the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (SEV-2017-0709). This work was supported by the Belgian Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS under grant number 30442502 (ET_HOME). The ACS experiment is led by IKI, Space Research Institute in Moscow, assisted by LATMOS in France. The project acknowledges funding by Roscosmos and CNES. The science operations of ACS are funded by Roscosmos and ESA. IKI affiliates acknowledge funding under grant number 14.W03.31.0017 and contract number 0120.0 602993 (0028-2014-0004) of the Russian government. We are grateful to all ESA ESOC, ESAC and IKI Science Operations Center personnel, whose efforts made the success of TGO possible.
Nature thanks Timothy McConnochie and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.