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Aeolian ripple dynamics on Mars: remote sensing and airflow modelling using earth analogues

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Prof D Jackson, Prof A Cooper, Prof Jean-Phillipe Avouac  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Small-scale wind-blown features are widespread sedimentary indicators of local wind dynamics on Mars and could potentially be a unique source of information on Martian wind regimes given the possibility to monitor them with time series of Remotely Sensed imagery, using  advanced techniques for registration and correlation of optical  images. However ripple genesis and their movement in relation to surface winds is still poorly understood.

To investigate this, the student will measure ripple migration in dune fields on Mars and Earth and compare this with air flow calculated with 3D computer  simulations of winds. Such simulations require high quality Digital Terrain Models to be generated. The 3D shape of dunes derived from standard  photogrammetry is however insufficient due to the ‘smoothing’ effect of these techniques, leading to uncertainty in the interaction of modelled airflow over dune features and sediment dynamics.  Recent advances in satellite photogrammetric techniques applicable to Mars data however, now allows better re-construction of surface features to provide improved surface topography for airflow modelling and investigation of ripple movements on dune surfaces.

Using these new surface models, computer simulations  of airflow will be used to model airflow and sand flux to better understand sediment transport and changes in dune forms over time. The project will compare modelled scenarios with direct field observations on Earth using similar desert dunes (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and combine high resolution earth observation (Planetlabs Images), drone imagery, ground sensor measurements and time-series observations of surface winds and sand flux. These data will elucidate heterogeneous surface roughness for improved computer modelling of airflow, and will allow direct comparisons between ripple migration and air flow on both Earth and Mars.


Ayoub, F., Avouac, J-P., Newman, C. E., Richardson, M. I., Lucas, A., Leprince, S., and Bridges, N. T. 2014 ‘Threshold for sand mobility on Mars calibrated from seasonal variations of sand flux’, Nature Communications. https://doi:10.1038/ncomms6096
Cornwall, C., Jackson, D.W.T., Bourke, M.C., Beyers, M. and Cooper, J.A.G. 2018. Seasonal variations in airflow over the Namib Dune, Gale Crater, Mars: Implications for dune dynamics. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 45, (18), 9498-9507.
Cornwall, C., Bourke, M.C., *Jackson, D.W.T., Cooper, J.A.G. 2018. Aeolian slipface dynamics and grain flow morphologies on Earth and Mars. ICARUS, 314, 311-326.
Jackson, D.W.T., Bourke, M.C. and Smyth, T.A.G. 2015. The dune effect on sand-transporting winds on Mars. NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 6:8796.
Love, R., Jackson, D.W.T.., Michaels, T., Smyth, T., Avouac, J-P. & Cooper, A., 2022. From Macro‐ to Microscale: A combined modelling approach for near‐surface wind flow on Mars at sub-dune length‐scales. PLoS ONE. 17(11)
Newman, C., Airapetian, V., Battalio, J., Guzewich, S., Heavens, N. & Jackson, D.W.T., 2021. An Urgently Needed Repository for Planetary Atmospheric Model Output. BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY. 53, 4
Silvestro, S., Fenton, L. K., Vaz, D. A., Bridges, N. T. & Ori, G. G. 2010. Ripple migration and dune activity on Mars: evidence for dynamic wind processes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L20203.
Smith, A., Jackson, D.W.T., Cooper, J.A.G. and Beyers, M. 2021. Whole-island wind bifurcation and localised topographic steering: impacts on aeolian dune dynamics. SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT 763, 144444

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