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Insights in Aeolian Rock Abrasion on Mars and Earth

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Bridges (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Aeolian abrasion is the most active rock weathering mechanism in the current Martian environment and is significant in arid terrestrial settings. Recent field, wind tunnel, and theoretical research has provided greater insight into the major contributions of aeolian abrasion and estimates of abrasion rates on Earth and Mars. In this talk, the interaction between saltating sand grains and rock surfaces is assessed to gauge relative abrasion potential as a function of rock shape, wind speed, grain size, and planetary environment. Whether abrasion occurs, as opposed to simple grain impact with little or no mass lost from the rock, depends on whether the grain kinetic energy (Eg) exceeds a critical value (Ec), as well as the flux of grains with energies above Ec. The magnitude of abrasion and the shape change of the rock over time depends on this flux and the value of EG > EC. Considering the potential range of particle sizes and wind speeds, the predicted kinetic energies of saltating sand hitting rocks overlap on Earth and Mars. However, when limited to the most likely grain sizes and threshold conditions, results agree with previous work and show that kinetic energies are about an order of magnitude greater on Mars.

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