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Nocturnal mixed layers and water ice clouds on Mars
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  • David Hinson,
  • Robert Wilson,
  • Aymeric Spiga,
  • Melinda Kahre,
  • Jeffery Hollingsworth
David Hinson
SETI Institute Mountain View

Corresponding Author:dhinson@seti.org

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Robert Wilson
NASA Ames Research Center
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Aymeric Spiga
Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique UPMC
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Melinda Kahre
NASA Ames Research Center
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Jeffery Hollingsworth
NASA Ames Res Ctr
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We are using radio occultation (RO) measurements from Mars Global Surveyor to investigate the nighttime structure and dynamics in the lower atmosphere of Mars. High-resolution temperature profiles retrieved from the RO data contain unique information about nocturnal mixed layers (NMLs) – detached layers of neutral stability that form at night in response to radiative cooling by a water-ice cloud layer. Basic properties of the NMLs and constraints on their spatial distribution and seasonal evolution can be obtained through analysis of the RO profiles. We have examined more than 3000 RO profiles in a latitude band centered on the Phoenix landing site (234°E, 68°N), where nighttime water-ice clouds were observed by the LIDAR instrument (Whiteway et al., Science 325, 68-70, 2009). NMLs appear routinely in the western hemisphere in RO observations at 5 h local time from early summer of MY27. There is a close resemblance in both thickness (a few km) and altitude (about 4 km above the surface) to the cloud layer observed at the same local time by the Phoenix LIDAR in MY29. The NMLs confirm that radiative cooling by the Phoenix cloud is sufficient to trigger convective instability, as predicted by a Large Eddy Simulation (Spiga et al., Nat. Geosci. 10, 652-657, 2017). We have also analyzed more than 800 RO profiles from the northern tropics near summer solstice of MY28. Tropical NMLs are largely confined to regions of elevated terrain, where the daytime convective boundary layer is deep. At 4 h local time, the top of the NML is about 10 km below the peak of Olympus Mons. The spatial distribution of the NMLs appears to be influenced by diverse processes ranging from topographic circulations to planetary-scale thermal tides. In addition, we are using a Mars Global Circulation Model and Large Eddy Simulations to interpret the RO results. Goals of the modeling effort include: to identify the atmospheric processes that control the formation of nocturnal water ice clouds; to understand the spatial distribution of the clouds and their evolution with time of day and season; and to assess the impact of NMLs on the nighttime weather and water transport in the lowest scale height above the surface.