Ice and Snowstorms on Mars

Mars is known for less water vapor compared to Earth’s atmosphere, but it hosts clouds. Some areas develop night clouds that deposit Ice and Snowstorms on Mars fairly quickly. And while science had previously theorized that the Martian precipitation in these storms took hours to descend a mile, new predictions are shaved in a few minutes under certain conditions.

“It’s the first time anyone has shown that snowstorms, or water-ice microbursts, occur presently on Mars. Any snow particles formed were thought to fall only very slowly through their own weight.” says Aymeric Spiga project head at the University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris.

Previous simulations suggested that Mars had snowstorms when it had more water in the distant past, and the Phoenix archipelago saw soft flakes in 2008. However, there was little indication that snowstorms could happen there now.

Spiga says the simulations combine cloud and snowfall variations from the Phoenix Observer observations until the hour and provide a direct explanation of the shape of the snow. To reach the ground on Mars, snow must fall from low clouds, barely a kilometer or two above the Martian surface, Spiga notes. Or, mountains and other features must become high in the sky. Otherwise, the snow will sublimate, turning the flakes into water vapor before hitting the ground.

Spiga says the result may force researchers to relook the role of water and ice clouds in the turmoil of Mars’ lower atmosphere. Scientists thought the clouds were pretty static. But the results show that the water mix at these lower altitudes “is not as we thought,” he says. Adding this movement of water to the climatic models of Mars could give clues as to how the water is moving around the planet now and how it has dried over time.