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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Orloff, Travis Cole
  • Advisor(s): Asphaug, Erik
  • et al.

Images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera onboard the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter show the surface in higher detail than previously capable. I look at a landscape on Mars called permafrost patterned ground which covers ~10 million square kilometers of the surface at high latitudes (>50°). Using the new high resolution images available we objectively characterize permafrost patterned ground terrains as an alternative to observational surveys which while detailed suffer from subjective bias. I take two dimensional Fourier transforms of individual images of Martian permafrost patterned ground to find the scale most representative of the terrain. This scale acts as a proxy for the size of the polygons themselves. Then I look at the distribution of spectral scales in the northern hemisphere between 50-70° and find correlations to previous studies and with the extent of ground ice in the surface. The high resolution images also show boulders clustering with respect to the underlying pattern. I make the first detailed observations of these clustered boulders and use crater counting to place constraints on the time it takes for boulders to cluster. Finally, I present a potential mechanism for the process that clusters the boulders that takes the specifics of the Martian environment to account. Boulders lying on the surface get trapped in seasonal CO2 frost while ice in the near surface contracts in the winter. The CO2 frost sublimates in spring/summer allowing the boulders to move when the near surface ice expands in summer. Repeated iterations lead to boulders that cluster in the polygon edges. Using a thermal model of the subsurface with Mars conditions and an elastic model of a polygon I show boulders could move as much as ~0.1mm per year in the present day.

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