NASA grant to create Mars weather forecasts

From a Texas A&M Press Release

https://i1.wp.com/photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA11418.jpg?resize=256%2C256

Mars, Image: NASA JPL

Is there such a thing as “weather” on Mars? There are some doubts, considering the planet’s atmosphere is only 1 percent as dense as that of the Earth. Mars, however, definitely has clouds, drastically low temperatures and out-of-this-world dust storms, and Istvan Szunyogh, a Texas A&M professor of atmospheric sciences, has been awarded a NASA grant to analyze and forecast Martian weather.

Mars is the most Earth-like planet we know, but it is still quite different. For example, it is much colder on Mars.

The south pole of the Earth is covered by water ice, but the south pole of Mars wears a dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) cap. In winter, the temperature at the poles can dip to -140°C (-220 degrees Fahrenheit), which is so cold that even carbon dioxide freezes.

“Planet-encircling Martian dust storms, which occur every two to four Mars years, can cover the whole planet with dust for months,” notes Szunyogh, who is working with colleagues from the University of Maryland and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., to forecast Martian weather.

Why care about weather on Mars? After all, nobody lives, works or goes to school there.

“Martian weather forecasts, in the short term, can drastically increase the safety of landing robotic exploration missions,” comments colleague Mark Lemmon, a Texas A&M professor of atmospheric sciences who has led or participated in many Mars exploratory events. “In the long run, it is indispensible for the safe returning of astronauts in future manned explorations.

“The two rovers currently working on Mars are solar-powered, and their lives end when their batteries run out,” Lemmon adds. “Dust storms block the sun and shorten their battery life, and winds, on the other hand, can clear their solar panels so their batteries recharge faster.”

Weather forecasting is not tossing dice. It must build on solid data.

“All weather forecasts, including those on TV, are based on model forecasts of the different physical parameters of the Earth’s atmosphere such as temperature, wind and pressure,” Szunyogh says. “The main goal of our project is to explore the possibility of obtaining accurate quantitative estimates of these parameters of the Martian atmosphere.

“These parameters will be obtained from the available remotely sensed Martian observations,” he adds. “Then the data can be fed into Mars global circulation models, producing Martian weather forecasts like what we have for Earth.”

55 thoughts on “NASA grant to create Mars weather forecasts

  1. Well, I see a point to it. It has the same falsifiability than those IPCC models, so it may be used in support of the later.

  2. Anthony, you should apply to be the first Martian Meteorologist.
    REPLY: definitely a title I don’t want. -A

  3. I think I will apply for a grant to forecast the weather on Titan.
    In fact, here is my first report… it’s going to be a very cold and very foggy day. It will be -290 degrees Fahrenheit for the day and -290 degrees Fahrenheit for the night… and a little methane rainfall tonight. Make sure to plug in your cars tonight.

  4. “The south pole of the Earth is covered by water ice, but the south pole of Mars wears a dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) cap. In winter, the temperature at the poles can dip to -140°C (-220 degrees Fahrenheit), which is so cold that even carbon dioxide freezes.”
    What’s that noise?
    Oh, it’s Steven Goddard gnashing his teeth.
    :o)

  5. Electric Dust Devils
    “It’s now official that dust devils on Earth exhibit strong electric fields, in excess of 4,000 volts per meter. They generate magnetic fields as well. The researchers who made the discovery added the qualification ‘”on Earth”‘ because the discovery was a surprise. They cannot be certain that it applies to the dust devils on Mars because their purely mechanical model did not predict the electrical effects found in earthly dust devils.
    ~~~
    ‘The 5 mile high dust devils on Mars and the global Martian dust storms are, I believe, a manifestation of electric discharges on Mars. In the very low atmospheric pressure lightning would be more like a diffuse auroral glow. The problem of generating dust storms on Mars is how to get the particles on the surface to “saltate”, or leave the surface, with such little force in the wind. Electrostatic forces could easily do the job.’
    ~~~~~~
    ‘Make no mistake, the Martian dust devils are tornadoes that dwarf their earthly counterpart. It shows that clouds are not required to generate them. They are an atmospheric electric discharge phenomenon.’

    http://www.holoscience.com/news.php?article=zg70y10m

  6. “[…] and forecast Martian weather. […]”
    Let’s get Earth’s right first. Then maybe we can think about Mars. ;o)
    Okay. So if someone can accurately predict the start, start location, and duration of Martian dust storms then I think they might be on to something.
    (I can see the researcher now. “Beaker, I want you to nip up to Mars tomorrow and release a couple of weather ballons, got that?” Beaker: “Nyeep-Nyeep.”)

  7. Forecasting weather (on Mars, in Texas, or elsewhere) is like voting liberal – pointless. Another proverbial nail in the coffin of common sense.

  8. I don’t know…I can see value in using the other planets as a sort of control group to finally put AGW to rest once and for all. The sun is the main driver of climate change on earth and presumably the other planets. Therefore the climates of the planets within a stone’s throw of earth – the ones that are within reach of our technological ability to remotely monitor their climates – should warm a cool together? Is this reasonable?

  9. Wasn’t Mars warming rapidly a couple of years ago? I think that the ice caps were rapidly diminishing. Maybe there is a common thread here?

  10. “Let’s get Earth’s right first. Then maybe we can think about Mars. ;o” H.R.
    I would bet that you have it backwards.

  11. “Planet-encircling Martian dust storms, which occur every two to four Mars years, can cover the whole planet with dust for months,”
    “The two rovers currently working on Mars are solar-powered, and their lives end when their batteries run out,” Lemmon adds. “Dust storms block the sun and shorten their battery life, and winds, on the other hand, can clear their solar panels so their batteries recharge faster.”
    The rovers were expected to only last 90 days. If NASA isn’t able to land a 90 day mission in a two year window between dust storms I don’t think getting Aggies to help is the answer. Hook ’em Horns!

  12. If Mars is warming, I can’t see Congress taxing us to ‘fix’ it. They might try, except for the laughter. So perhaps not so bad. Keeps the researcher from publishing something that will raise our taxes.
    If I recall, Mars doesn’t have much of a magnetic field, so dust storms and discharges from them don’t tell us much about our rock.

  13. Maybe they should fill up a rocket with Mini-Stevenson Screens, send it to Mars and eject those everywhere around the planet and the poles. Once they are all installed and emitting, then Anthony’s Surface Station Project Team can go around and survey the environment around the probes. 😉

  14. I don’t know about day to day weather, but there may be some value in keeping an eye on the Martian climate. As Mars does not have oceans with thermal inertia, climate variation due to solar variability may be more directly observable. Dr.Abdussamatov gave a whole page to this in his recent paper. Given that the icecaps on Mars have been observed for some time and that the orbital distance of Mars can be corrected for, a study of Martian climate could help clear up problems with TSI reconstructions and reinterpretations.

  15. I thought we had a thread here that proved carbon dioxide doesn’t freeze ?
    Perhaps the Martians painted their polar caps white to prevent global warming, and look what happened. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to keep getting re-elected.
    I wonder what weather he’s trying to predict? Windy or not windy seem to be the only choices.

  16. gigajoule (14:47:41) :
    Electric Dust Devils
    “It’s now official that dust devils on Earth exhibit strong electric fields, in excess of 4,000 volts per meter. They generate magnetic fields as well. The researchers who made the discovery added the qualification ‘”on Earth”‘ because the discovery was a surprise.

    And exactly how was this a surprise, it has been well known for the better part of a century that blowing dust builds up static charges. The Germans developed a dust powered fuse for medium caliber cannon shells (37 mm -50mm) which is sometimes referred to as the “dust fuze”. The warhead had a cavity filled with talcum powder that was ported to allow airflow to agitate the dust as the shell went down range. The turbulent mixing of the air and dust generated a static electrical charge that was sufficient to trigger the electrical detonator when a switch closed on impact.
    PP182 Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ammunition Ian V. Hogg.
    Likewise dust agitation in volcanic plumes has been accepted as the mechanism for intense lightning discharges during volcanic eruptions.
    The interaction of dust and a helicopters rotors also is well known to generate sufficient static charge on the helicopter to cause potentially lethal shocks to ground troops when hooking up sling loads unless safely discharged by dipping the sling hook to the ground first or using a grounding pole to discharge the air frame of a hovering helicopter before anyone touches the lift hook.
    The static is generated by the motion of the dust not the other way around.
    Larry

  17. I suppose in theory it is easier to forecast weather on Mars-there is a pretty thin atmosphere and not much of that all important weather substance water.
    NEVERTHELESS! There are still problems with the idea of predicting weather on any planet.
    Here is what I DEMAND to know! Why do we care what the weather will be like on Mars, huh? Why not invest on TERRESTRIAL weather forecasting??? Isn’t that a LITTLE more important???

  18. I’m surprised by the anti-science, anti-exploration attitude some commentators here have expressed.
    Mars has fronts, cyclonic systems and snow. Probably running water from time to time.
    It isn’t nearly as cold as some here claimed. Summer tropical temps are around 86F for the high. At the poles, in the year-long night, C02 does freeze out. But not at 220 below – that would do a great deal more than add a temporary layer of dry ice.

  19. hotrod (15:45:52) :
    Similarly, aircraft have a conducting rubber on the nose wheel to discharge static on landing.
    DaveE.

  20. I can see a tax on all of us rich gas-guzzling westerners to pay for Martian warming – sorry – climate change.
    Oh yes, and big oil can cough up first to pay for turning MARS (bars) into a des(s)ert just for starters.

  21. Who wrote this piece? It reads like a paper in a freshman high school science class, trying extra hard to write for a sixth grade reading audience.
    That said, if this guy bases his weather predictions on actual data (hopefully the satellites we have in orbit provide sufficient data, there obviously is a significant lack of surface stations), this will be a good thing, because if we can show more quantitatively that Mars climate changes are in sync with Earth’s then the argument for solar causes to climate change become stronger.

  22. hotrod (15:45:52) :
    The atmosphere on Mars is 1% of earth’s atmosphere, so:
    “The problem of generating dust storms on Mars is how to get the particles on the surface to “saltate”, or leave the surface, with such little force in the wind.”
    So the question is, with such a thin atmosphere, how do you get dust devils the size of Mt Everest? There could not be enough charge generated by the dust. Rather, the dust devils are raising the dust storms. Please read the holoscience article for a fuller sense.

  23. hotrod (15:45:52) :
    Likewise dust agitation in volcanic plumes has been accepted as the mechanism for intense lightning discharges during volcanic eruptions.

    Alaskan Volcano Spits Lightning
    “The cause of volcanic lightning is poorly understood. Traditionally, geologists have assumed that the cause is similar to that of lightning in thunderstorms: Tiny particles rub against each other in a turbulent flow of air, and the larger particles, which move slower, are charged to a different polarity from the smaller particles, which move faster. The two groups of particles would accumulate in separate regions, and the voltage difference between them would produce lightning. But this is an assumption that is not supported by theory or the facts. It is part of a general confusion that continues to haunt the sciences of geology and meteorology today.
    New discoveries have deepened the mysteries of volcanic lightning. A recent news story reports on a study into volcanic electrical phenomena occurring in the eruption of Mt. Augustine in Alaska. The website LiveScience.com writes: “The lightning in a volcanic eruption occurs because the ash and other debris blasting out of the volcano are highly charged…. Though lightning was known to occur in the debris clouds above the volcano, the researchers found an earlier phase of volcanic lightning that had never before been observed and occurred right at the volcano’s mouth just as it began erupting.”
    editor: Stephen Smith

  24. Wasn’t GISS originally designed for this task before it was turned to doing Earth modeling and observation? I believe they were initially created to do climate research for other planets’ atmospheres. Sounds like something constructive they could do with their time.

  25. When Mars came on it’s closest approach in late 2002 or 2003 (can’t remember which) it was a grand sight in a 25″ Dob, and the South Polar Ice Cap shone like a glacier in the distance. Then, the planet got engulfed in a 6 month global sandstorm, and nobody could see anything.
    From what I have observed, Mars does have weather, though it’s rather on the infrequent side of things, but very violent when it happens.
    If we are ever going to terraform and colonize Mars, we do need to understand Martian weather. In fact, we need to understand the weather of many Planets in order to better appreciate our own.

  26. Provided the forecasts can be verified somehow, this is not such a bad idea. If we had 20 planets all around us with different physical conditions and climate, there is a good chance the climate would be understood, as different planets would probe different corners of the theory. There is an analogy with stellar evolution: because we observe many different kinds of stars with different characteristics we have been able to piece together [because theory can be guided by observation] a compelling picture of the birth, life, and death of stars.

  27. Leif Svalgaard (17:18:48) :
    Provided the forecasts can be verified somehow, this is not such a bad idea. If we had 20 planets all around us with different physical conditions and climate, there is a good chance the climate would be understood, as different planets would probe different corners of the theory.

    The nice thing about Mars is having no large liquid oceans it would/should be easier to “model”. It would be funny if the GCM’s worked just fine on Mars and still failed here on the earth. That would certainly point a finger at the oceans and water vapor.

  28. I’m confused ie situation normal. Is the first M in MMGW Man, Mann or Martian?
    I sort of got the analogy between Venus and Alka-Seltza (cheers NOAA) but am completely nonplussed as to why the way of the warmist should be allowed to influence scientific funding!!

  29. gigajoule (16:50:56) :
    So the question is, with such a thin atmosphere, how do you get dust devils the size of Mt Everest?

    gigajoule (14:47:41) :
    The problem of generating dust storms on Mars is how to get the particles on the surface to “saltate”, or leave the surface, with such little force in the wind.

    .
    Mars’ gravity is only 38% of Earth’s, so the high winds don’t have any trouble lifting the dust.

  30. Weather prediction for Mars makes perfect sense for those who regularly travel and vacation there. Most however, do not fit this select group and must settle for the brochure photography.

  31. Just a technical observation of the moment. On the iPhone and pm mobile option on a gsm environment I’ve submitted half a dozen comments that died on route.
    The last one got through but only ‘cos I took off the mobile option!

  32. gigajoule (16:50:56) :
    “So the question is, with such a thin atmosphere, how do you get dust devils the size of Mt Everest? There could not be enough charge generated by the dust. Rather, the dust devils are raising the dust storms. Please read the holoscience article for a fuller sense.”
    Keep in mind that Mars gravity is 1/3 that of Earth, and with less atmo, this has allowed meteorites to pulverise things quite finely, without much water to hold things down. Most dust on Earth is heavier because it is simply wetter. Dust devils form here where it is dryest, not where the wind is highest. Same on Mars. Those big storms are not powerful, they are just big.

  33. Mike McMillan (18:07:00) :
    Mars’ gravity is only 38% of Earth’s, so the high winds don’t have any trouble lifting the dust.

    How do you get the high winds in a near vacuum? Will the thermal effects of solar radiation provide enough energy for the storms, which engulf the planet and last for months?

  34. Can we trust NASA/NOAA to accurately report Martian weather if it tracks Earth weather thereby putting AGW in doubt. True, Mars evidently lacks UHIs to put the thermometers in, but Hansen can surely find some way to cook the numbers. (Sarc off).

  35. Forecasting Earth weather/climate with models – epic fail
    Forecasting Martian weather/climate with models – who’s gonna contradict us?
    You couldn’t make it up, could you?

  36. Forecasting Earth weather/climate with models – epic fail
    Forecasting Martian weather/climate with models – who’s gonna contradict us?
    You couldn’t make it up, could you?
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  37. Greg S (18:20:27) :
    [i]Sounds cold. Remind me again what percentage of the atmosphere on Mars is CO2?[/i]
    As a non-scientist, I have experienced first hand the effects of atmospheric compression. In northern california, the Redding/Shasta Lake area gets hotter than hades during the summer months. The cause? low elevation, surrounded by mountains. The mountain air drops down into the valley, compressing and heating up the whole time. The result is a super hot pressure pit.
    As I understand it, venus is the same way. The atmostpheric pressure is so high (more than 90 times that of earth), that it is much hotter on venus than can be explained solely by it’s closer proximity to the sun.
    Mars is the opposite, almost no atmospheric pressure compared to earth, and very very cold. The implication? Atmospheric pressure has as much or more effect on temperature than composition.

  38. The martian dust is mainly glacial flour and dried clay. It has roughly the particle size and consistency of talcum powder, which is why MER-B is presently stuck in a dust patch.

  39. I want a grant to move to a nice warm area with nice people around to study how great a life I could have with Grant money? I’m just saying.

  40. “Martian weather forecasts can be tricky” he says. He should take a look at how “tricky” weather forecasts are right here in Phoneix, AZ.
    Even the word “forecasts” is a misnomer here in Phoenix. Anyone who pays close attention can easily see that what the weather boffins are up to is attempting to tell us what is actually happening, and frequently they get even that wrong. Oh, we do get “predictions” for weather for a week or 10 days in the future, but anyone who takes that sort of thing seriously is in for a lot of weather trouble.
    A good number of times in my lifetime (in other states too) I have seen the weather forecast of “fair and clear for the next several days”, and a large storm strike from just out of “nowhere”. Many times just a couple of hours or less after the “fair and clear” forecast was made.
    Now the weather forecasters do update these forecasts on a regular basis, which is in essence, watching closely what is actually happening weather wise or temperature wise, and changing from a wrong forecast yesterday to what is happening now.

  41. “I had a lot of bad luck predicting which horses would run well at the race track which I usually go to, so I am going to try out a different race track.” says the horse racing (and betting) enthusiast.

  42. I think its a great idea. If the gross “climate” variations are in sync with earth’s (e.g. decadal reduction or increase in ice caps) then we would know the sun had a bigger role than IPCC thinks. Perhaps we already have this gross data, since some organization or another has been taking images of Mars over a long continuous period – anyone? Also, perhaps, with such a high relative content of CO2 in the atmosphere and the seasonal variations in it, we can calculate the radiative forcing contribution of CO2 above the surface warming by the sun alone. Admittedly, with global warming on Mars, we still wouldn’t be able to take our gloves off.

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