Researchers find link between Mars' dust storms and seasonal energy imbalance
- United States
Mars is famous for its intense dust storms. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Houston (UH) have found a link between the Martian dust storms and a seasonal imbalance in the amount of solar energy absorbed and released by the Red Planet.
UH researchers Liming Li, associate professor of physics; Xun Jiang, professor of atmospheric science; and Ellen Creecy, doctoral student and lead author of an article published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) documented Mars' extreme energy imbalance.
Mars had oceans and lakes in the past, but it later experienced global warming and climate change. Somehow, Mars lost its oceans and lakes. We know that climate change is happening on Earth now. So what do the lessons of Mars' experience hold for the future of Earth?, Li asked.
According to the researchers, Mars is especially susceptible to wide temperature differences because of its thin atmosphere and very elliptical orbit. The planet absorbs extreme amounts of solar heat when it swings closest to the sun in its perihelion seasons - spring and summer for its southern hemisphere - which is the same extreme part of the orbit when its dust storms appear.
As its orbit takes Mars further away from the sun, the planet absorbs less solar energy. While the same phenomenon happens on Earth, it was found to be especially extreme on the Red Planet.
The research team compared four Martian years of data (roughly equivalent to eight Earth years) on orbits and temperatures to conditions as documented by NASA missions including the Curiosity and Insight rovers, which are still operating on site, to reach these conclusions.
"One of our most interesting findings is that the energy excess – more energy being absorbed than emitted – could be one of the generating mechanisms of Mars' dust storms. Understanding how this works on Mars might provide clues about the roles Earth's energy budget takes in the development of severe storms, including hurricanes, on our own planet," Creecy said.
More information can be found here.