Mars: Quantitative Evaluation of Crocus Melting behind Boulders

1Norbert Schorghofer
The Astrophysical Journal 890, 49 Link to Article [DOI]
1Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA

The possibility of liquid water on present-day Mars has been debated for half a century. Melting is physically difficult under Martian environmental conditions, because with the total pressure of the atmosphere near the triple point pressure of water, evaporative cooling of ice is high near the melting point. Here, a suite of quantitative models is used to investigate whether melting of seasonal water frost can occur on present-day Mars. An updated and generalized parameterization is derived for the turbulent convective heat flux that results from the buoyancy of water vapor. A three-dimensional surface energy balance model is used to calculate surface temperatures; it includes terrain shadowing, self heating, and subsurface conduction. Protruding topography creates locations that experience a rapid transition from conditions where water frost accumulates to high solar energy input. Beyond the pole-facing side of a boulder, CO2 and frost can accumulate seasonally, and once the Sun reemerges and the CO2 frost disappears, the water frost is heated to near melting temperature within one or two sols. Dust contained in the CO2 frost facilitates the formation of a protective sublimation lag. Temperatures within about 10 K of the melting point are reached within one or two sols after the end of water frost accumulation. For expected sublimation lag thicknesses, evaporative cooling is not significantly reduced. Overall, melting of pure water ice is not expected under present-day Mars conditions. However, at temperatures that are readily reached, seasonal water frost can melt on a salt-rich substrate. Hence, crocus melting behind boulders can lead to the formation of brines under present-day Mars conditions.


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