Aeolian behavior of dust in a simulated Martian environment

Bruce R. White, B. Michelle Lacchia, Ronald Greeley, Rod N. Leach

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49 Scopus citations


The behavior of aeolian dust, particles 1-2 microns (μm) in diameter, was analyzed in a simulated Martian environment. Three main areas have been investigated: (1) characterizing spectral and aeolian properties of Martian particles and natural wind-blown terrestrial dust in order to identify a suitable surrogate Martian dust, (2) emplacement of the material in the simulated Martian environment, and (3) experimental procedures and testing in the Martian Surface Wind Tunnel (MARSWIT). The first phase of the study involved choosing a terrestrial dust that closely resembled Martian dust. Data accumulated from various sources suggest that Martian dust is derived from the weathering of basaltic parent material, nontronite clay being a good candidate composition. A commercial clay, Carbondale Red Clay (CRC), was determined to be an appropriate surrogate Martian dust. Using a compressed air-dust ejection system, an air-entrained dust cloud was generated which settled to cover the test section in the MARSWIT. This method best replicated the natural aerodynamic settling process presumed to exist on Mars. Low-pressure experiments were performed in the MARSWIT facility located at the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. Two separate wind tunnel floors were used for these experiments; one provided an aerodynamically smooth-surface flow, and the other was an aerodynamically rough-surface flow. Initial and momentary particle movement was recorded at friction velocities as low as 2 m/s. However, the "dust" never reached fluid saltation threshold because individual particles less than 10 μm typically do not saltate, but pass into suspension. An estimated dust flux of 3.7 × 10-7 g/cm2 s was determined for a friction velocity of 2 m/s. This flux could suspend about 10,000 metric tons of dust per second over the surface of Mars. The dust behavior on the smooth surface was markedly different than on the rough surface under Martian conditions. Application of the processes described above to the Martian environment suggests that on rocky surfaces dust suspension would first occur, whereas smooth plains would require higher wind speeds for dust entrainment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number97JE01753
Pages (from-to)25629-25640
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE11
StatePublished - 1997


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