Mars Dunes

Posted by Mary Bourke, Geography, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

(Re-posted from IAG Image of the Month, June, 2007)

Both Earth and Mars have atmospheres that can mobilize particles to form sand dunes. This image is from the caldera of an inactive Volcano (Nili Patera) on Mars. The steep avalanche face on the downwind side of the dunes indicates wind direction (see arrow). There are several types of sand dunes in this image, some of which have not been previously recognized on Mars.


(a) Lateral dune.
(b) Climbing dune.
(c) Linear extension from a transverse dune.
(d) Linear dune supplies sediment to barchanoid ridge (d’) on the downwind surface.
(e) Transverse aeolian ridges (they may be mega ripples) are being buried by larger dunes.
(f) Barchan dunes.

Despite the presence of a 100 m deep double-trough, the sand transport pathway is not significantly interrupted. The march of the dunes across the trough may be aided by the tendency for wind speed to accelerate as it meets vertical obstacles.A study has modeled wind as it interacts with troughs on Mars and demonstrated that, under Martian conditions, wind speeds up by 30% at the downwind trough walls.


Bourke, M. C., et al., 2006. A comparison of methods used to estimate the height of sand dunes on Mars. Geomorphology. 81, 440-452.

Bourke, M. C., et al., 2004. Aeolian sediment transport pathways and aerodynamics at troughs on Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 109, 10.1029/2003JE002155.

Bourke, M. C., et al., 2008. Recent aeolian dune change on Mars. Geomorphology. 94, 247-255, doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2007.05.012.
Breed, C. S., et al., 1979. Morphology and distribution of common ‘sand’ dunes on Mars: Comparison with the Earth. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 84, 8183-8204.

Byrne, S., Murray, B. C., 2002. North polar stratigraphy and the paleo-erg of Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 107, 10.1029/2001JE001615.

Edgett, K. S., 1997. Aeolian dunes as evidence for explosive volcanism in the Tharsis region of Mars. Icarus. 130, 96-114.

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Greeley, R., et al., 1999. Aeolian features and processes at the Mars Pathfinder landing site. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 104, 8573-8584.

Lancaster, N., Greeley, R., Mars: Morphology of southern hemisphere intercrater dunefields. NASA Technical Memorandum, 1987, pp. 264-265.

Mangold, N., et al., 2003. Debris flows over sand dunes on Mars: Evidence for liquid water. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 108, 5027.

Reiss, D., Jaumann, R., 2003. Recent debris flows on Mars: Seasonal observations of the Russell Crater dune field. Geophysical Research Letters. 30, doi:10.1029/2002GL016704.

Schatz, V., et al., 2006. Evidence for indurated sand dunes in the Martian north polar region. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets). 111, 10.1029/2005JE002514.

Thomas, P. C., Mars: Dune sand sources in north polar layered deposits. NASA Planetary geology and Geophysics technical memorandum, 1987, pp. 286-288.

Tsoar, H., et al., 1979. Mars:The north polar sand sea and related wind patterns. Journal of Geophysical Research. 84, 8167-8180.

Zimbelman, J. R., 2000. Non-active dunes in the Acheron Fossae region of Mars between the Viking and Mars Global Surveyor eras. Geophysical Research Letters. 27, 1069-1072.

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