October 14, 2014

Observations of atmospheric water vapor above the Tharsis volcanoes on Mars with the OMEGA/MEx imaging spectrometer

Maltagliati L., Titov D.V., Encrenaz T., Melchiorri R., Forget F., Garcia-Comas M., Keller H.U., Langevin Y., Bibring J.-P.

Summary: The OMEGA imaging spectrometer onboard the Mars Express spacecraft is particularly well suited to study in detail specific regions of Mars, thanks to its high spatial resolution and its high signal-to-noise ratio. We investigate the behavior of atmospheric water vapor over the four big volcanoes located on the Tharsis plateau (Olympus, Ascraeus, Pavonis and Arsia Mons) using the 2.6 µm band, which is the strongest and most sensitive H2O band in the OMEGA spectral range. Our data sample covers the end of MY26 and the whole MY27, with gaps only in the late northern spring and in northern autumn. The most striking result of our retrievals is the increase of water vapor mixing ratio from the valley to the summit of volcanoes. Corresponding column density is often almost constant, despite a factor of ~5 decrease in air mass from the bottom to the top. This peculiar water enrichment on the volcanoes is present in 75% of the orbits in our sample. The seasonal distribution of such enrichment hints at a seasonal dependence, with a minimum during the northern summer and a maximum around the northern spring equinox. The enrichment possibly also has a diurnal trend, being the orbits with a high degree of enrichment concentrated in the early morning. However, the season and the solar time of the observations, due to the motion of the spacecraft, are correlated, then the two dependences cannot be clearly disentangled. Several orbits exhibit also spatially localized enrichment structures, usually ring- or crescent-shaped. We retrieve also the height of the saturation level over the volcanoes. The results show a strong minimum around the aphelion season, due to the low temperatures, while it raises quickly before and after this period. The enrichment is possibly generated by the local circulation characteristic of the volcano region, which can transport upslope significant quantities of water vapor. The low altitude of the saturation level during the early summer can then hinder the transport of water during this season. The influence of the coupling between atmosphere and surface, due mainly to the action of the regoliths, can also contribute partially to the observed phenomenon. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.