A Migration Model for the Polar Spiral Troughs of Mars

A. M. Bramson, S. Byrne, J. Bapst, I. B. Smith, T. McClintock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Mars' iconic polar spiral troughs are 400–1,000-m-deep depressions in the north polar layered deposits. As the north polar layered deposits accumulate, troughs migrate approximately poleward, anti-parallel to the local wind patterns. Insolation is suspected to drive ice retreat through sublimation. Sublimation at the trough wall produces a growing sublimation lag that modulates further retreat; however, winds move material off the retreating slope faces, thinning the lag. Discontinuities in stratigraphy seen by radar highlight Trough Migration Paths (TMPs), which provide a record of the troughs' position, formation, and evolution to the present day. We investigate two adjacent troughs presently near 87°N to evaluate the mass balance conditions at those sites. We constrain the contribution of insolation-induced sublimation to the migration in the observed TMPs. We present a phenomenological model that combines our simulations of the sublimation conditions at paleo-trough surfaces with accumulation rates to create synthetic TMPs that are tunable to the observations. Models using nominal values of lag diffusivity, albedo, and atmospheric water vapor abundance and in which the trough walls have been covered in a lag on the order of millimeters thick and formed ~2.3 Myr ago match the observed trough migration and align with expectations of trough ages. Thicker lags, and/or older troughs, would generate TMPs of constant slope, which does not match the observed paths. We demonstrate the viability of our new theoretical model for predicting conditions that lead to trough migration, allowing us to connect observable TMPs to Martian climate processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1020-1043
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Mars
  • geomorphology
  • ice
  • planetary
  • radar
  • sublimation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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