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S. Byrne, A.P. Ingersoll (Caltech)
In an effort for explain the formation of the 'Swiss-cheese' terrain visible on the southern residual cap of Mars, we have developed a radiative model to follow the growth/decay of an initial depression due to sublimation/condensation of carbon dioxide. The pits making up this terrain have many distinctive features, they are shallow (~10m deep), with steep walls and flat floors and contain an interior moat which runs along the bottom of the walls. They have lateral sizes ranging from a few 10's of meters to a kilometer and are quasi-circular. The model accounts for incident sunlight, emitted thermal radiation, and scattered short and long wave radiation.
We have investigated many cases involving pure dry-ice with constant albedo, albedo as a function of insolation, and differing albedo for fresh and residual frost (the latter has lower albedo). The last case mentioned shows the most promising results to date. With these conditions it is possible for the depressions to grow and develop flat central portions although they still lack the observed steep walls of the pits. In the other cases mentioned the initial depressions heal themselves and disappear into the surrounding terrain.
Other processes or materials could be responsible for the remainder of the observed features. Water ice stored a few meters under a carbon dioxide covering would have dramatic effects on the growth of any depression which encounters it, both due to its low sublimation rate and its ability to store heat. We will extend the current model to include a water ice layer and account for the subsequent heat storage which could possibly follow. For water ice models, a challenge is to reproduce the low brightness temperatures that persist throughout the summer at the residual south polar cap.