Carbon photochemistry at Mars: Updates with recent data

Daniel Y. Lo, Roger V. Yelle, Robert J. Lillis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We provide a comprehensive characterization of the photochemistry behind atomic carbon in the Mars atmosphere. Using a one-dimensional photochemical model, with an extensive reaction list incorporating new high-resolution photodissociation cross-sections (Heays et al., 2017) and the recently experimentally confirmed CO2+hν→C+O2 (Lu et al., 2014), we investigate the dominant channels for the production and loss of atomic carbon, against a subsolar background atmosphere based on MAVEN Deep Dip 2 observations. We confirm the results from previous studies that CO photodissociation and CO+ dissociative recombination are important contributors to atomic C production, and that reaction with O2 to form CO is the main loss channel. However, we also find significant contributions from CO2+hν→C+O2, HCO++e→C+OH and charge exchange of C+ with CO2. These additional production channels give rise to significantly higher C densities than have been previously reported, with a peak at 4×105 cm−3 at a CO2 density of 1.7×1010 cm−3 (∼146 km altitude). We find the C densities to vary with H2O densities over a Martian year, with the wetter perihelion season having 13% lower C column densities. Contrary to Anbar et al. (1993), we find C densities to be relatively insensitive to the temperature-dependence of cross-sections for CO2 and CO photodissociation. A good understanding of carbon photochemistry in the present-day Martian atmosphere provides the essential foundational framework for determining the fate of atmospheric carbon in the study of Mars’ climate evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114001
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Atmospheres, chemistry
  • Mars, atmosphere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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