Modern Mars' geomorphological activity, driven by wind, frost, and gravity

Serina Diniega, Ali M. Bramson, Bonnie Buratti, Peter Buhler, Devon M. Burr, Matthew Chojnacki, Susan J. Conway, Colin M. Dundas, Candice J. Hansen, Alfred S. McEwen, Mathieu G.A. Lapôtre, Joseph Levy, Lauren Mc Keown, Sylvain Piqueux, Ganna Portyankina, Christy Swann, Timothy N. Titus, Jacob M. Widmer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Extensive evidence of landform-scale martian geomorphic changes has been acquired in the last decade, and the number and range of examples of surface activity have increased as more high-resolution imagery has been acquired. Within the present-day Mars climate, wind and frost/ice are the dominant drivers, resulting in large avalanches of material down icy, rocky, or sandy slopes; sediment transport leading to many scales of aeolian bedforms and erosion; pits of various forms and patterned ground; and substrate material carved out from under subliming ice slabs. Due to the ability to collect correlated observations of surface activity and new landforms with relevant environmental conditions with spacecraft on or around Mars, studies of martian geomorphologic activity are uniquely positioned to directly test surface-atmosphere interaction and landform formation/evolution models outside of Earth. In this paper, we outline currently observed and interpreted surface activity occurring within the modern Mars environment, and tie this activity to wind, seasonal surface CO2 frost/ice, sublimation of subsurface water ice, and/or gravity drivers. Open questions regarding these processes are outlined, and then measurements needed for answering these questions are identified. In the final sections, we discuss how many of these martian processes and landforms may provide useful analogs for conditions and processes active on other planetary surfaces, with an emphasis on those that stretch the bounds of terrestrial-based models or that lack terrestrial analogs. In these ways, modern Mars presents a natural and powerful comparative planetology base case for studies of Solar System surface processes, beyond or instead of Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107627
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Aeolian
  • Comparative planetology
  • Geomorphological activity
  • Mars
  • Mass wasting
  • Sublimation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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