Predicted diurnal variation of the deuterium to hydrogen ratio in water at the surface of Mars caused by mass exchange with the regolith

1,2Renyu Hu
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 519, 192-201 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2019.05.017]
1Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
2Division of Planetary and Geological Science, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
Copyright Elsevier

Regolith on Mars exchanges water with the atmosphere on a diurnal basis and this process causes significant variation in the abundance of water vapor at the surface. While previous studies of regolith-atmosphere exchange focus on the abundance, recent in-situ experiments and remote sensing observations measure the isotopic composition of the atmospheric water. We are therefore motivated to investigate isotopic water exchange between the atmosphere and the regolith and determine its effect on the deuterium to hydrogen ratio (D/H) of the atmosphere. We model transport of water in the regolith and regolith-atmosphere exchange by solving a transport equation including regolith adsorption, condensation, and diffusion. The model calculates equilibrium fractionation between HDO and H2O in each of these processes. The fractionation in adsorption is caused by the difference in the latent heat of adsorption, and that of condensation is caused by the difference in the vapor pressure. Together with a simple, bulk-aerodynamic boundary layer model, we simulate the diurnal variation of the D/H near the planetary surface. We find that the D/H can vary by 300–1400‰ diurnally in the equatorial and mid-latitude locations, and the magnitude is greater at a colder location or season. The variability is mainly driven by adsorption and desorption of regolith particles, and its diurnal trend features a drop in the early morning, a rise to the peak value during the daytime, and a second drop in the late afternoon and evening, tracing the water vapor flow into and out from the regolith. The predicted D/H variation can be tested with in-situ measurements. As such, our calculations suggest stable isotope analysis to be a powerful tool in pinpointing regolith-atmosphere exchange of water on Mars.

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