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An assessment of the impact of local processes on dust lifting in martian climate models

Mulholland, D. P., Spiga, A., Listowski, C. and Read, P. L. (2015) An assessment of the impact of local processes on dust lifting in martian climate models. Icarus, 252. pp. 212-227. ISSN 0019-1035

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.01.017


Simulation of the lifting of dust from the planetary surface is of substantially greater importance on Mars than on Earth, due to the fundamental role that atmospheric dust plays in the former’s climate, yet the dust emission parameterisations used to date in martian global climate models (MGCMs) lag, understandably, behind their terrestrial counterparts in terms of sophistication. Recent developments in estimating surface roughness length over all martian terrains and in modelling atmospheric circulations at regional to local scales (less than O(100 km)) presents an opportunity to formulate an improved wind stress lifting parameterisation. We have upgraded the conventional scheme by including the spatially varying roughness length in the lifting parameterisation in a fully consistent manner (thereby correcting a possible underestimation of the true threshold level for wind stress lifting), and used a modification to account for deviations from neutral stability in the surface layer. Following these improvements, it is found that wind speeds at typical MGCM resolution never reach the lifting threshold at most gridpoints: winds fall particularly short in the southern midlatitudes, where mean roughness is large. Sub-grid scale variability, manifested in both the near-surface wind field and the surface roughness, is then considered, and is found to be a crucial means of bridging the gap between model winds and thresholds. Both forms of small-scale variability contribute to the formation of dust emission ‘hotspots’: areas within the model gridbox with particularly favourable conditions for lifting, namely a smooth surface combined with strong near-surface gusts. Such small-scale emission could in fact be particularly influential on Mars, due both to the intense positive radiative feedbacks that can drive storm growth and a strong hysteresis effect on saltation. By modelling this variability, dust lifting is predicted at the locations at which dust storms are frequently observed, including the flushing storm sources of Chryse and Utopia, and southern midlatitude areas from which larger storms tend to initiate, such as Hellas and Solis Planum. The seasonal cycle of emission, which includes a double-peaked structure in northern autumn and winter, also appears realistic. Significant increases to lifting rates are produced for any sensible choices of parameters controlling the sub-grid distributions used, but results are sensitive to the smallest scale of variability considered, which high-resolution modelling suggests should be O(1 km) or less. Use of such models in future will permit the use of a diagnosed (rather than prescribed) variable gustiness intensity, which should further enhance dust lifting in the southern hemisphere in particular.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:39682


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