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This image shows the rock called "Souffle".
Click on image for full size
Image from: NASA/JPL

Martian Weathering by Wind and Sand

Dried debris left after a flood is "wind mobile" and can be lifted into the air by winds. The general process by which this occurs is called "saltation". Saltation is the primary form of abrasion and erosion of the Martian surface. Saltation is carried to an extreme during the frequent Martian global dust storms.

Features found in and near the rocks by the Mars Pathfinder lander provide evidence for both sandblasting and saltation on the Martian surface. The rock shown here, dubbed "Souffle", is surrounded by wind drifts as well as showing evidence of ventifact formation by sand erosion.

The efficacy of particles for abrasion depends upon the particles'

  • availability
  • size
  • trajectory
On Mars the winds accelerate to higher speeds than on Earth so that the sand grains are accelerated to higher speeds as well, and for a greater length of time. (This leads to a different angle of impact of sand grains on rocks and affects the gouging and chipping power of sandblasting winds). Because of Mars' lower gravity, the winds can more easily lift and carry sand particles. But the lower atmospheric pressure of Mars makes it harder for the winds to move sand particles. This makes the erosion of Martian rock a little different than on Earth.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF