And even more surprising, was that his findings revealed answers to NASA’s questions about sediment transport and surface processes on Mars. Those results are published in this month’s edition of Geology.
Leier first studied loose pebbles and rocks, also known as clasts, when he was looking at sand dunes in Wyoming and noticed that the clasts seemed to spread away from each other in an almost organized fashion. It turns out,NASA was examining similar patterns on the sandy surface of Mars. (See figure No. 1 below.)
NASA proposed that wind was moving these rocks around. But Leier, who co-authored the study with Jon Pelletier at the University of Arizona and James Steidtmann at the University of Wyoming, says that would be impossible. They also discovered that rather than being pushed backward by the breeze, clasts actually tend to move into the direction of prevailing winds.
“The wind is less effective at moving clasts on Mars because the atmosphere is less dense,” says Leier. “And for the wind to move the rocks downwind, it would have to be moving on the order of 8,000 kilometres an hour.”
Instead, the loose sand around clasts is removed by the wind, causing scour-pits to form in front of larger clasts. Eventually, the rocks fall forward (or laterally) into the scours and then, the process repeats. Behind the larger grains, the sand is protected from the wind erosion and so a "sand-shadow" develops. This shadow prevents the clasts from being pushed downwind and from bunching up with one another. (See figure No. 2 below.)
Leier and his team first came up with these results through observation but then took them to a wind tunnel at the University of Wyoming to test the theory. Here, a tightly grouped bunch of small pebbles were buried in sand and then the wind tunnel was activated and results photographed. Surprisingly, as the sand was eroded by the wind, the larger clasts moved into the wind and spread out from one another.
Numerical models, based on the physics of wind transport, were run to test these ideas. Just like what was observed in the wind tunnel, the numerical models predict that as the sand is blown away, the large pebbles will spread out from one another, and often move into the direction of the wind, regardless of their initial configuration.
So through a few simple feedbacks, the larger grains on a windy, sandy surface will inherently spread out and organize (or dis-organize) themselves.
“What I find most interesting about this is that something as seemingly mundane as the distribution of rocks on a sandy, wind-blown surface can actually be used to tell us a lot about how wind-related processes operate on a place as familiar as the Earth and as alien as Mars,” says Leier. “It’s chaotic and simple at the same time.”
Leier’s article Wind-driven reorganization of coarse clasts on the surface of Mars is published in the January 2009 edition of Geology. It can be viewed online at www.gsajournals.org/.
Leanne Yohemas | EurekAlert!
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2017 | Information Technology
18.01.2017 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation