October 14, 2014

Albedo control of seasonal South Polar cap recession on Mars

Schmidt et Al.
Icarus, Volume 200, Issue 2, p. 374-394

Summary: Over the last few decades, General Circulation Models (GCM) have been used to simulate the current martian climate. The calibration of these GCMs with the current seasonal cycle is a crucial step in understanding the climate history of Mars. One of the main climatic signals currently used to validate GCMs is the annual atmospheric pressure cycle. It is difficult to use changes in seasonal deposits on the surface of Mars to calibrate the GCMs given the spectral ambiguities between CO2 and H2O ice in the visible range. With the OMEGA imaging spectrometer covering the near infra-red range, it is now possible to monitor both types of ice at a spatial resolution of about 1 km. At global scale, we determine the change with time of the Seasonal South Polar Cap (SSPC) crocus line, defining the edge of CO2 deposits. This crocus line is not symmetric around the geographic South Pole. At local scale, we introduce the snowdrop distance, describing the local structure of the SSPC edge. Crocus line and snowdrop distance changes can now be used to calibrate GCMs. The albedo of the seasonal deposits is usually assumed to be a uniform and constant parameter of the GCMs. In this study, albedo is found to be the main parameter controlling the SSPC recession at both global and local scale. Using a defrost mass balance model (referred to as D-frost) that incorporates the effect of shadowing induced by topography, we show that the global SSPC asymmetry in the crocus line is controlled by albedo variations. At local scale, we show that the snowdrop distance is correlated with the albedo variability. Further GCM improvements should take into account these two results. We propose several possibilities for the origin of the asymmetric albedo control. The next step will be to identify and model the physical processes that create the albedo differences.