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A Comparative Study of Metallic Ions in the Atmospheres of Earth and Mars

Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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About the Project

Metals are injected into planetary atmospheres by the ablation of interplanetary dust particles. The major species (Fe, Mg and Na) exist as atoms and ions that are excellent tracers of dynamics and chemistry. This project will contrast the behaviour of these metals in the terrestrial and Martian atmospheres. On Earth, metals are observed by ground-based lidar, rocket-borne mass spectrometry, and from optical spectrometers on satellites. For Mars, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is providing unprecedented measurements of metallic ions over much of the planet’s ionosphere. This is because MAVEN’s highly elliptical orbit permits sampling to unusually low altitudes. Surprisingly different behaviour in the metal ions has been observed, which is probably due to (at least) two factors: unlike the Earth which has a permanent magnetic field, Mars only has patches of crustal magnetism mainly in the southern hemisphere; and Mars has a CO2 – rather than an N2/O2 – atmosphere.
This project will used global whole-atmosphere models of Earth and Mars to understand why the metals behave so differently. The objective will be to improve our understanding of the coupling between the neutral and ionized atmosphere. An important reason for doing so is to understand the effects of space weather on our atmosphere, both short-term perturbations and longer-term climatic influences. The main model that will be employed is WACCM-X, an extended version of the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, USA). The project will involve including metal chemistry in WACCM-X, and then developing a version of WACCM-X for Mars. The student will be co-supervised by Prof. Daniel Marsh Leeds/NCAR, and will have the opportunity to make research visits to Boulder. The Paris LMD Mars model, which is available at Leeds, will also be used for the project through collaboration with Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Galindo at the Andalucian Astrophysical Institute in Granada (Spain), where the student will also have the opportunity to visit. This project will provide a high level of specialist scientific training in: (i) the application of a world-leading atmospheric chemistry-climate model; (ii) analysis and synthesis or large datasets; (iii) use of advanced High Performance Computing facilities (e.g. the UK national supercomputer, and ARC4).

Funding Notes

This project is in competition for funding as part of the Leeds-York NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), for more details see

A maths/physics background is preferred but not essential


1) Marsh D.R., D. Janches, W. Feng, and J. M. C. Plane (2013), A global model of meteoric sodium, J. Geophys. Res- Atmos., doi:10.1002/jgrd.50870, 118, 11442--11,452.
2) Feng, W., D. R. Marsh, M. P. Chipperfield, D. Janches, J. Hoffner, F. Yi, and J. M. C. Plane (2013), A global atmospheric model of meteoric iron, J. Geophys. Res- Atmos., 118, 9456--9474, doi:10.1002/jgrd.50708.
3) Plane, J.M.C., Wuhu Feng and Erin Dawkins (2015), The Mesosphere and Metals: Chemistry and Changes, Chem. Rev.,DOI: 10.1021/cr500501m.
4) Chu, XZ, ZB Yu, CS Gardner, C Chen and WC Fong, (2011), Lidar observations of neutral Fe layers and fast gravity waves in the thermosphere (110-155 km) at McMurdo (77.8oS, 166.7oE), Antarctica Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, doi: 10.1029/2011GL050016.
5) Dou, X. K., S. C. Qiu, X. H. Xue, T. D. Chen, and B. Q. Ning (2013), Sporadic and thermospheric enhanced sodium layers observed by a lidar chain over China, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 118, 6627–6643, doi:10.1002/jgra.50579.
6) Jiao, J., G. Yang, J. Wang, X. Cheng, F. Li, Y. Yang, W. Gong, Z. Wang, L. Du, C. Yan, and S. Gong (2015), First report of sporadic K layers and comparison with sporadic Na layers at Beijing, China (40.6°N, 116.2°E). J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 120, 5214–5225. doi: 10.1002/2014JA020955.
7) Tsuda, TT, X Chu, T Nakamura, MK Ejiri, TD Kawahara, AS Yukimatu and K Hosokawa, (2015), A thermospheric Na layer event observed up to 140 km over Syowa Station (69.0oS, 39.6oE) in Antarctica Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, (10), 3647 - 3653, doi: 10.1002/2015GL064101.
8) Wang, C. (2010), New Chains of Space Weather Monitoring Stations in China, Space Weather, 8, doi:10.1029/2010Sw000603.

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