Mars general circulation model

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Mars general circulation model, NASA

The Mars general circulation model (MGCM) is the result of a research project by NASA to understand the nature of the general circulation of the atmosphere of Mars, how that circulation is driven and how it affects the climate of Mars in the long term.


Mars climate simulation models date as far back as the Viking missions to Mars. Most Mars climate simulation models were written by individual researchers that were never reused or open-sourced. By the 1990s the need for a unified model codebase came into being, due to the general impact of the internet on climate modelling and research. This current Mars climate simulation model has its origins with the internet era.

How it works[edit]

This Mars climate model is a complex 3-dimensional (height, latitude, longitude) model, which represents the processes of atmospheric heating by gases and ground-air heat transfer, as well as large-scale atmospheric motions.[1]

The current model has not been modified for use with distributed computing systems like BOINC.

Methane on Mars[edit]

The Martian atmosphere contains 10 nmol/mol methane.[2] In January 2009, NASA scientists announced that they had discovered that the planet often vents methane into the atmosphere in specific areas, leading some to speculate this may be a sign of biological activity going on below the surface.[3]

Methane (CH4) on Mars - potential sources and sinks.

Analysis of observations made by a Weather Research and Forecasting model for Mars (MarsWRF) and related Mars general circulation model (MGCM) suggests that it is potentially possible to isolate methane plume source locations to within tens of kilometers, which is within the roving capabilities of future Mars rovers.[4] The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012, is able to make measurements that distinguish between different isotopologues of methane;[5] but even if the mission is to determine that microscopic Martian life is the source of the methane, the life forms likely reside far below the surface, outside of the rover's reach.[6] The first measurements with the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) indicated that there is less than 5 ppb of methane at the landing site at the point of the measurement.[7][8][9][10] The Mars Trace Gas Mission orbiter planned to launch in 2016 would further study the methane,[11][12] as well as its decomposition products such as formaldehyde and methanol.

On 16 December 2014, NASA reported the Curiosity rover detected a "tenfold spike", likely localized, in the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Sample measurements taken "a dozen times over 20 months" showed increases in late 2013 and early 2014, averaging "7 parts of methane per billion in the atmosphere." Before and after that, readings averaged around one-tenth that level.[13][14]

Other planets[edit]

There are global climate simulation models that have been written for Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Venus.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mars General Circulation Model – Research". NASA. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-02-25.
  2. ^ ESA Press release. "Mars Express confirms methane in the Martian atmosphere". ESA. Archived from the original on 24 February 2006. Retrieved March 17, 2006.
  3. ^ Mars Vents Methane in What Could Be Sign of Life, Washington Post, January 16, 2009
  4. ^ "Atmospheric Modeling of Martian Methane Plumes: The Debate Continues". NASA Solar System Exploration. April 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Tenenbaum, David (June 9, 2008). "Making Sense of Mars Methane". Astrobiology Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 September 2008. Retrieved October 8, 2008.
  6. ^ Steigerwald, Bill (January 15, 2009). "Martian Methane Reveals the Red Planet is not a Dead Planet". NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA. Archived from the original on 17 January 2009. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  7. ^ "Mars Curiosity Rover News Telecon -November 2, 2012".
  8. ^ Kerr, Richard A. (November 2, 2012). "Curiosity Finds Methane on Mars, or Not". Science. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 3, 2012.
  9. ^ Wall, Mike (November 2, 2012). "Curiosity Rover Finds No Methane on Mars—Yet". Retrieved November 3, 2012.
  10. ^ Chang, Kenneth (November 2, 2012). "Hope of Methane on Mars Fades". New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2012.
  11. ^ Rincon, Paul (July 9, 2009). "Agencies outline Mars initiative". BBC News. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  12. ^ "NASA orbiter to hunt for source of Martian methane in 2016". Thaindian News. March 6, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  13. ^ Webster, Guy; Neal-Jones, Nancy; Brown, Dwayne (December 16, 2014). "NASA Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars". NASA. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
  14. ^ Chang, Kenneth (December 16, 2014). "'A Great Moment': Rover Finds Clue That Mars May Harbor Life". New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2014.