A distinct ripple-formation regime on Mars revealed by the morphometrics of barchan dunes. Academic Article uri icon


  • Sand mobilized by wind forms decimeter-scale impact ripples and decameter-scale or larger dunes on Earth and Mars. In addition to those two bedform scales, orbital and in situ images revealed a third distinct class of larger meter-scale ripples on Mars. Since their discovery, two main hypotheses have been proposed to explain the formation of large martian ripples-that they originate from the growth in wavelength and height of decimeter-scale ripples or that they arise from the same hydrodynamic instability as windblown dunes or subaqueous bedforms instead. Here we provide evidence that large martian ripples form from the same hydrodynamic instability as windblown dunes and subaqueous ripples. Using an artificial neural network, we characterize the morphometrics of over a million isolated barchan dunes on Mars and analyze how their size and shape vary across Mars' surface. We find that the size of Mars' smallest dunes decreases with increasing atmospheric density with a power-law exponent predicted by hydrodynamic theory, similarly to meter-size ripples, tightly bounding a forbidden range in bedform sizes. Our results provide key evidence for a unifying model for the formation of subaqueous and windblown bedforms on planetary surfaces, offering a new quantitative tool to decipher Mars' atmospheric evolution.

published proceedings

  • Nat Commun

altmetric score

  • 78.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Rubanenko, L., Laptre, M., Ewing, R. C., Fenton, L. K., & Gunn, A.

citation count

  • 1

publication date

  • November 2022