Gardening of the Martian Regolith by Diurnal CO2 Frost and the Formation of Slope Streaks

L. Lange, S. Piqueux, C. S. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Before dawn on the dustiest regions of Mars, surfaces measured at or below ∼148 K are common. Thermodynamics principles indicate that these terrains must be associated with the presence of CO2 frost, yet visible wavelength imagery does not display any ice signature. We interpret this systematic absence as an indication of CO2 crystal growth within the surficial regolith, not on top of it, forming hard-to-distinguish intimate mixtures of frost and dust, that is, dirty frost. This particular ice/regolith relationship unique to the low thermal inertia regions is enabled by the large difference in size between individual dust grains and the peak thermal emission wavelength of any material nearing 148 K (1–2 μm vs. 18 μm), allowing radiative loss (and therefore ice formation) to occur deep within the pores of the ground, below several layers of grains. After sunrise, sublimation-driven winds promoted by direct insolation and conduction create an upward drag within the surficial regolith that can be comparable in strength to gravity and friction forces combined. This drag displaces individual grains, possibly preventing their agglomeration, induration, and compaction, and can potentially initiate or sustain downslope mass movement, such as slope streaks. If confirmed, this hypothesis introduces a new form of CO2-driven geomorphological activity occurring near the equator on Mars and explains how large units of mobile dust are currently maintained at the surface in an otherwise soil-encrusting world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JE006988
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • CO
  • Mars
  • frost
  • slope streaks
  • thermophysics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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