Dust devils as observed by Mars Pathfinder

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Abstract

[1] Dust devils are localized meteorological phenomena frequently observed in terrestrial dry lands and desert landscapes as well as on Mars. They are low-pressure, warm core vortices that form at the bottom of convective plumes and loft dust from the surface. They move with the speed of the ambient wind and are tilted by wind shears. The Mars Pathfinder detected dust devils as dust plumes in the Imager for Mars Pathfinder images and as low-pressure convective vortices in the meteorological Mars Pathfinder Atmospheric Structure Investigation/Meteorology (ASI/MET) experiment data. The Pathfinder data have been analyzed in terms of dust devil size, spatial distribution, and frequency of occurrence. The results show that the Pathfinder imaging and MET observations are consistent with each other and with the observations made by the Viking 1 Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. The dust devil's ability to loft dust into the atmosphere has been investigated and a thermodynamic theory for dust devils has been used to calculate their physical parameters relevant to dust transport. The dust devils observed in an active day provide a pumping rate larger than the dust-settling rate derived from the optical obscuration of the Pathfinder rover solar panels. Therefore dust devils are a major factor in transporting dust from the surface to the atmosphere at the Pathfinder site.

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