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Global warming on Mars.


The brightness of an object is characterized by its albedo, the percentage of light that is reflected from its surface. In the late 1970's, Viking orbiters circled Mars and measured the planet's albedo. A team of scientists at the United States Geological Survey have been steadily tracking the changing appearance on the "Red Planet."

Data gathered at the millenium revealed that air temperatures on Mars might have increased as much as 4 degrees Centigrade in some areas. The overall darkening of Mars's surface in recent decades has raised its temperature, a possible cause of the substantial shrinkage of its southern Ice cap. It is unclear how these albedo changes affect wind circulation, dust transport, and the feedback between these processes and the Martian climate.

Paul E. Geissler, a planetary geologist who led this study, discovered that the winds that generated the changes produced a positive feedback system in which the albedo changes became strengthened. Climate modeling illustrates that these changes have caused elevated air temperatures, increased wind stresses, and the production of dust devils. This, in turn creates a positive feedback loop between dust erosion and albedo.

The simulations also predict a net annual global warming of surface air temperatures by less than 1 degree Centigrade, which contributes to dust lifting. The increase in global dust lifting by both wind stress and "dust devils" may affect the mechanisms that trigger the initiation of large dust storms. These conditions are consistent with observed polar cap erosion and may even influence the triggering of large dust storms. The team's simulations suggest that the planet's albedo-induced warming may be responsible for as much as 60 percent of billions of tons of lost carbon dioxide.

(Source: Nature, 2007;446:646-649.)
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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