Valles Marineris dune fields as compared with other martian populations: Diversity of dune compositions, morphologies, and thermophysical properties

Matthew Chojnacki, Devon M. Burr, Jeffrey E. Moersch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Planetary dune field properties and their bulk bedform morphologies relate to regional wind patterns, sediment supply, climate, and topography. On Mars, major occurrences of spatially contiguous low-albedo sand dunes are primarily found in three major topographic settings: impact craters, high-latitude basins, and linear troughs or valleys, the largest being the Valles Marineris (VM) rift system. As one of the primary present day martian sediment sinks, VM holds nearly a third of the non-polar dune area on Mars. Moreover, VM differs from other regions due to its unusual geologic, topographic, and atmospheric setting. Herein, we test the overarching hypothesis that VM dune fields are compositionally, morphologically, and thermophysically distinct from other low- and mid-latitude (50°N-50°S latitude) dune fields. Topographic measurements of dune fields and their underlying terrains indicate slopes, roughnesses, and reliefs to be notably greater for those in VM. Variable VM dune morphologies are shown with topographically-related duneforms (climbing, falling, and echo dunes) located among spur-and-gully wall, landslide, and chaotic terrains, contrasting most martian dunes found in more topographically benign locations (e.g., craters, basins). VM dune fields superposed on Late Amazonian landslides are constrained to have formed and/or migrated over >10s of kilometers in the last 50My to 1Gy. Diversity of detected dune sand compositions, including unaltered ultramafic minerals and glasses (e.g., high and low-calcium pyroxene, olivine, Fe-bearing glass), and alteration products (hydrated sulfates, weathered Fe-bearing glass), is more pronounced in VM. Observations show heterogeneous sand compositions exist at the regional-, basinal-, dune field-, and dune-scales. Although not substantially greater than elsewhere, unambiguous evidence for recent dune activity in VM is indicated from pairs of high-resolution images that include: dune deflation, dune migration, slip face modification (e.g., alcoves), and ripple modification or migration, at varying scales (10s-100sm2). We conclude that VM dune fields are qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from other low- and mid-latitude dune fields, most readily attributable to the rift's unusual setting. Moreover, results imply dune field properties and aeolian processes on Mars can be largely influenced by regional environment, which may have their own distinctive set of boundary conditions, rather than a globally homogenous collection of aeolian sediment and bedforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-142
Number of pages47
StatePublished - Feb 15 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aeolian processes
  • Infrared observations
  • Mars, surface
  • Mineralogy
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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