Planetary dune field properties and their bulk bedform morphologies relate to regional wind patterns, sediment supply, climate, and topography. On Mars, major occurrences of spatially contiguous low-albedo sand dunes are primarily found in three major topographic settings:
impact craters, high-latitude basins, and linear troughs or valleys, the largest being the Valles Marineris (VM) rift system. As one of the primary present day martian sediment sinks, VM holds nearly a third of the non-polar dune area on Mars. Moreover, VM differs from other regions due to its unusual geologic, topographic, and atmospheric setting.
Observations show heterogeneous sand compositions exist at the regional-, basinal-, dune field-, and dune-scales. Although not substantially greater than elsewhere, unambiguous evidence for recent dune activity in VM is indicated from pairs of high-resolution images that include:
dune deflation, dune migration, slip face modification (e.g., alcoves), and ripple modification or migration, at varying scales (10s-100s m2).
We conclude that VM dune fields are qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from other low- and mid-latitude dune fields, most readily attributable to the rift’s unusual setting. Moreover, results imply dune field properties and aeolian processes on Mars can be largely influenced by regional environment, which may have their own distinctive set of boundary conditions, rather than a globally homogenous collection of aeolian sediment and bedforms.