transverse aeolian ridges

Two generations of windblown sediments on Mars

This colorful scene is situated in the Noctis Labyrinthus region of Mars, perched high on the Tharsis rise in the upper reaches of the Valles Marineris canyon system.

Targeting the bright rimmed bedrock knobs, the image also captures the interaction of two distinct types of windblown sediments. Surrounding the bedrock knobs is a network of pale reddish ridges with a complex interlinked morphology. These pale ridges resemble the simpler “transverse aeolian ridges” (called TARs) that are common in the equatorial regions of Mars.

Dark sand dunes comprise the second type of windblown sediment visible in this image. The dark sand dune seen just below the center of the cutout displays features that are common to active sand dunes observed by HiRISE elsewhere on Mars, including sets of small ripples crisscrossing the top of the dune. In many cases, it is the motion of these smaller ripples that drives the advance of Martian sand dunes. The dark dunes are made up of grains composed of iron-rich minerals derived from volcanic rocks on Mars, unlike the pale quartz-rich dunes typical of Earth.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Giant landform on Mars

Sandy landforms formed by the wind, or aeolian bedforms, are classified by the wavelength–or length–between crests. On Mars, we can observe four classes of bedforms (in order of increasing wavelengths): ripples, transverse aeolian ridges (known as TARs), dunes, and what are called “draa.” All of these are visible in this Juventae Chasma image.

Ripples are the smallest bedforms (less than 20 meters) and can only be observed in high-resolution images commonly superposed on many surfaces. TARs are slightly larger bedforms (wavelengths approximately 20 to 70 meters), which are often light in tone relative to their surroundings. Dark-toned dunes (wavelengths 100 meters to 1 kilometer) are a common landform and many are active today. What geologists call “draa” is the highest-order bedform with largest wavelengths (greater than 1 kilometer), and is relatively uncommon on Mars.

Here, this giant draa possesses steep faces or slip faces several hundreds of meters tall and has lower-order superposed bedforms, such as ripples and dunes. A bedform this size likely formed over thousands of Mars years, probably longer.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona