The seasonal and global behavior of water vapor in the Mars atmosphere: Complete global results of the Viking Atmospheric Water Detector Experiment


  • Bruce M. Jakosky,

  • Crofton B. Farmer


The water vapor content of the Mars atmosphere was measured from the Viking Orbiter Mars Atmospheric Water Detectors (MAWD) for a period of more than 1 Martian year, from June 1976 through April 1979. Results are presented in the form of global maps of column abundance for 24 periods throughout each Mars year. The data reduction incorporates spatial and seasonal variations in surface pressure and supplements earlier published versions of less complete data. Column abundances vary between 0 and about 100 precipitable microns (pr μm), depending on location and season, while the entire global abundance varies seasonally between an equivalent of about 1 and 2 km3 of ice. The first appearance of vapor at nonpolar latitudes as northern summer approaches and the drop in abundance at mid-latitudes as summer ends both strongly imply the existence of a seasonal reservoir for water within the regolith. There appear to be no net annual sources away from the poles that contribute significant amounts of water. However, the strong annual gradient of vapor from north to south implies a net annual flow of vapor toward the south. This southward flow may be balanced by a northward flow during the global dust storms, by transport in the form of clouds or adsorbed onto dust grains, or during other years. The perenially cold nature of the south polar residual cap, along with the relatively large summertime vapor abundances over the cap, implies a net annual condensation of vapor onto the cap. Comparison with earlier (Earth-based) observations of vapor in the south during the local summer indicates that all of the seasonal CO2 cap may sublime away in some years to reveal the water ice cap which must lie underneath, with corresponding large southern summer vapor abundances. The global distribution of the annual average abundance of vapor correlates well with Martian topography, as might be expected for a uniform constant atmospheric mixing ratio. If this topographic effect is divided out, the resulting residual map correlates well with maps of surface albedo and thermal inertia; this correlation may be related to the control exerted by the surface and subsurface temperatures on the adsorption/desorption process and on the atmospheric temperature profile and, hence, the vapor holding capacity of the atmosphere.