The effect of ground ice on the Martian seasonal CO2 cycle

Robert M. Haberle, Francois Forget, Anthony Colaprete, James Schaeffer, William V. Boynton, Nora J. Kelly, Matthew A. Chamberlain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere of Mars condenses and sublimes in the polar regions, giving rise to the familiar waxing and waning of its polar caps. The signature of this seasonal CO2 cycle has been detected in surface pressure measurements from the Viking and Pathfinder landers. The amount of CO2 that condenses during fall and winter is controlled by the net polar energy loss, which is dominated by emitted infrared radiation from the cap itself. However, models of the CO2 cycle match the surface pressure data only if the emitted radiation is artificially suppressed suggesting that they are missing a heat source. Here we show that the missing heat source is the conducted energy coming from soil that contains water ice very close to the surface. The presence of ice significantly increases the thermal conductivity of the ground such that more of the solar energy absorbed at the surface during summer is conducted downward into the ground where it is stored and released back to the surface during fall and winter thereby retarding the CO2 condensation rate. The reduction in the condensation rate is very sensitive to the depth of the soil/ice interface, which our models suggest is about 8 cm in the Northern Hemisphere and 11 cm in the Southern Hemisphere. This is consistent with the detection of significant amounts of polar ground ice by the Mars Odyssey Gamma Ray Spectrometer and provides an independent means for assessing how close to the surface the ice must be. Our results also provide an accurate determination of the global annual mean size of the atmosphere and cap CO2 reservoirs, which are, respectively, 6.1 and 0.9 hPa. They also indicate that general circulation models will need to account for the effect of ground ice in their simulations of the seasonal CO2 cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-255
Number of pages5
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • CO cycle
  • Ground ice
  • Mars
  • Polar caps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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