A Broad Continuum of Aeolian Impact Ripple Morphologies on Mars is Enabled by Low Wind Dynamic Pressures

R. Sullivan, J. F. Kok, I. Katra, H. Yizhaq

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Aeolian ripples are common in sandy environments on Earth and Mars. On Earth, ripples in sorted dune sands typically are <1 cm high and are erased in high winds. On Mars in similar sands, ripple wavelengths commonly exceed 2 m, with much smaller ripples superimposed. Large Martian ripple sizes and juxtaposition of multiple wavelengths have raised questions about origins and the applicability of terrestrial aeolian physics to different planetary environments. Here, two hypotheses are evaluated for large Martian ripples: (1) fluid/wind drag, analogous to ripples formed under water on Earth, as proposed previously for Martian large ripples; and (2) saltation impact splash, the mechanism creating aeolian ripples of much smaller size on Earth. This study evaluates these hypotheses with numerical experiments and Mars rover observations, and concludes that large Martian ripples develop through the saltation impact splash mechanism. The low-density Martian atmosphere enables aeolian impact ripples to grow much higher into the boundary layer before reaching maximum heights constrained by wind dynamic pressure effects at crests. In this concept, boundary layer conditions influence mature ripple heights more directly than wavelengths. On Mars, low wind dynamic pressures, combined with the impact splash mechanism, also help to explain other distinctively Martian aeolian bedforms, including large longitudinal ripples observed by rovers and orbiters, and transverse aeolian ridges (TARs) distributed widely across the Martian surface. Compared with Earth, low wind dynamic pressures on Mars permit a wider range of ripple sizes, relative ages, morphologies, and orientations in close proximity, as displayed in rover observations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JE006485
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • MER
  • MSL
  • Mars
  • TAR
  • aeolian
  • ripples

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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