Student-Faculty Programs Office
Summer 2017 Announcements of Opportunity

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Project:  Analysis of Martian North Polar Erg Gullies
Discipline:  Planetary Science
Mentor:  Serina Diniega, (JPL),, Phone: (818) 393-1487
Background:  Over the last few years, analyses of high-resolution observations have shown that the dunes within the Martian North Polar Erg (also called Olympia Undae) are currently very active on seasonal and yearly timescales. In particular, the brinks of many dunes seem to erode each year with small alcoves, and then are restored to a crisp and continuous edge. It has not yet been determined exactly which processes are reshaping these dunes, or at what rates this activity occurs. Proposed drivers are seasonal frost warming and sublimation, or wind-driven processes: An initial study found that these features formed during the spring season and proposed that sublimation activity could destabilize the dune slopes and overlying seasonal CO2 frost (Hansen et al., 2011). A subsequent study showed that many of the new alcoves seen in the spring were present and visible beneath the frost (Horgan and Bell, 2012), and thus proposed that alcove formation is due to wind-driven processes in the mid- to late-summer. More recent work (this project) has shown that both studies have yielded aspects of the truth: gully activity is correlated with the presence of seasonal frost, but alcoves are first visible beneath the frost, likely implying formation during the autumn season. From this we are building a model for gully activity, constrained by a more comprehensive set of observations.
Description:  In this project, we will track the formation and disappearance of alcoves and other avalanche features that occurred along dune downwind slopes. This will be done via careful comparison of pairs of high-resolution images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), to identify when the alcoves form or disappear over the last four Mars years. This work has progressed via work by students over the last two summers, who have identified, characterized, and measured gully formation over 2-4 Mars year in several dune fields (resulting in numerous conference presentations and a paper to be submitted this month). This summer will possibly be the last period of data collection of the previous type. Additionally, students this summer will measure the rate of total dune evolution and movement, through all active processes for comparison with gully evolution rates.
References:  1) Hansen, C.J., M. Bourke, N.T. Bridges, S. Byrne, C. Colon, S. Diniega, C. Dundas, K. Herkenhoff, A. McEwen, M. Mellon, G. Portyankina, N. Thomas (2011). Seasonal erosion and restoration of Mars northern polar dunes. Science 331, 575-578.
2) Horgan, B.H.N. and J.F. Bell III (2012). Seasonally active slipface avalanches in the north polar sand sea of Mars: Evidence for a wind-related origin. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09201.
3) Diniega et al. (2016). A complicated story of frost and wind: Present-day gully activity within the north polar erg, Mars. Sixth Mars Polar Science Conference.
Student Requirements:  Most of the work will involve close visual inspection of spacecraft images of Mars. Thus, this work is most appropriate for students new to research; with a tolerance of, or appreciation for: detail-oriented, somewhat monotonous, mostly brain-exercising (vs. hands-on) work; and an interest in geology and/or planetary science and in seeing how a research project is designed. This project does not require specific background knowledge or skills, beyond basic computer comfort; but when possible, can be expanded to incorporate the students specific interests. The mentor welcomes applications from students from diverse backgrounds and skill sets.
Location / Safety:  Project building and/or room locations: . Student will need special safety training: No.
Programs:  This AO can be done under the following programs:

  Program    Available To
       SURF    both Caltech and non-Caltech students 

Click on a program name for program info and application requirements.

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Problems with or questions about submitting an AO?  Call Jen Manglos of the Student-Faculty Programs Office at (626) 395-2885.
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