Dark material in the polar layered deposits and dunes on Mars


  • Ken E. Herkenhoff,

  • Ashwin R. Vasavada


Viking infrared thermal mapping and bistatic radar data suggest that the bulk density of the north polar erg material is much lower than that of the average Martian surface or of dark dunes at lower latitudes. We have derived a thermal inertia of 245–280 J m−2 s−1/2 K−1 (5.9–6.7×10−3 cal cm−2 s−1/2 K−1) for the Proctor dune field and 25–150 J m−2 s−1/2 K−1 (0.6–3.6×10−3 cal cm−2 s−1/2 K−1) for the north polar erg. The uniqueness of the thermophysical properties of the north polar erg material may be due to a unique polar process that has created them. The visible and near-infrared spectral reflectance of the erg suggests that the dark material may be composed of basalt or ferrous clays. These data are consistent with the dark material being composed of basaltic ash or filamentary sublimate residue (FSR) particles derived from erosion of the layered deposits. Dark dust may be preferentially concentrated at the surface of the layered deposits by the formation of FSR particles upon sublimation of water ice. Further weathering and erosion of these areas of exposed layered deposits may form the dark, saltating material that is found in both polar regions. Dark FSR particles may saltate for great distances before eventually breaking down into dust grains, re-mixing with the global dust reservoir, and being recycled into the polar layered deposits via atmospheric suspension.