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The landscape seen by the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity at Meridiani Planum is dominated by eolian (wind-blown) ripples with concentrated surface lags of hematitic spherules and fragments. These ripples exhibit profound spatial grain size sorting, with well-sorted coarse-grained crests and poorly sorted, generally finer-grained troughs. These ripples were the most common bed form encountered by Opportunity in its traverse from Eagle Crater to Endurance Crater. Field measurements from White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, show that such coarse-grained ripples form by the different transport modes of coarse- and fine-grain fractions. On the basis of our field study, and simple theoretical and experimental considerations, we show how surface deposits of coarse-grained ripples can be used to place tight constraints on formative wind conditions on planetary surfaces. Activation of Meridiani Planum coarse-grained ripples requires a wind velocity of 70 m/s (at a reference elevation of 1 m above the bed). From images by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) of reversing dust streaks, we estimate that modern surface winds reach a velocity of at least 40 m/s and hence may occasionally activate these ripples. The presence of hematite at Meridiani Planum is ultimately related to formation of concretions during aqueous diagenesis in groundwater environments; however, the eolian concentration of these durable particles may have led to the recognition from orbit of this environmentally significant landing site.


Published in Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, E12S02.


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