Valles Marineris cloud trails



[1] Distinctive cloud trails are identified in Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars Color Imager (MARCI) images over specific locations associated with Valles Marineris and Noctis Labyrinthus and at perihelion solar longitudes (LS = 230°–260°). High-contrast surface shadows are well defined, as cast from their eastern margins, supporting altitude and optical depth determinations. These relatively high altitude clouds (40–50 km) exhibit narrow latitudinal widths (25–75 km) in comparison to extended longitudinal dimensions (400–1000 km). MARCI multispectral imaging of cloud surface shadows in five wavelength channels (260, 320, 437, 546, and 653 nm) yields the wavelength dependence of cloud extinction optical depth, revealing a range of small cloud particle sizes (reff = 0.2–0.5 μm) and moderate cloud optical depths (0.03–0.10 visible and 0.1–0.2 ultraviolet). Local time and temporal sampling characteristics of MARCI cloud images indicate that these clouds develop very rapidly in afternoon hours (1300–1500 LT), reach their full longitudinal extents within <2 h time scales, and often reoccur on successive afternoons. Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbital Camera imaging in previous Mars years indicates these clouds are annually repeating. These observed characteristics suggest a cloud formation mechanism that is specific to ∼50 km horizontal and vertical scales, transports water vapor and dust upward from lower levels, exists during the afternoon, and is likely associated with the mesoscale atmospheric circulations induced by the near-equatorial canyons of Mars. Cloud particles formed in such updrafts would then be rapidly transported westward in the strong retrograde zonal circulation of the subsolar middle atmosphere in this season.