The impact of resolution on the dynamics of the martian global atmosphere: Varying resolution studies with the MarsWRF GCM.


We investigate the sensitivity of the circulation and thermal structure of the martian atmosphere to numerical model resolution in a general circulation model (GCM) using the martian implementation (MarsWRF) of the planetWRF atmospheric model. We provide a description of the MarsWRF GCM and use it to study the global atmosphere at horizontal resolutions from 7.5 x 9 to 0.5 x 0.5, encompassing the range from standard Mars GCMs to global mesoscale modeling. We find that while most of the gross-scale features of the circulation (the rough location of jets, the qualitative thermal structure, and the major large-scale features of the surface level winds) are insensitive to horizontal resolution over this range, several major features of the circulation are sensitive in detail. The northern winter polar circulation shows the greatest sensitivity, showing a continuous transition from a smooth polar winter jet at low resolution, to a distinct vertically ‘‘split’’ jet as resolution increases. The separation of the lower and middle atmosphere polar jet occurs at roughly 10 Pa, with the split jet structure developing in concert with the intensification of meridional jets at roughly 10 Pa and above 0.1 Pa. These meridional jets appear to represent the separation of lower and middle atmosphere mean overturning circulations (with the former being consistent with the usual concept of the ‘‘Hadley cell’’). Further, the transition in polar jet structure is more sensitive to changes in zonal than meridional horizontal resolution, suggesting that representation of small-scale wave-mean flow interactions is more important than fine-scale representation of the meridional thermal gradient across the polar front. Increasing the horizontal resolution improves the match between the modeled thermal structure and the Mars Climate Sounder retrievals for northern winter high latitudes. While increased horizontal resolution also improves the simulation of the northern high latitudes at equinox, even the lowest model resolution considered here appears to do a good job for the southern winter and southern equinoctial pole (although in detail some discrepancies remain). These results suggest that studies of the northern winter jet (e.g., transient waves and cyclogenesis) will be more sensitive to global model resolution that those of the south (e.g., the confining dynamics of the southern polar vortex relevant to studies of argon transport). For surface winds, the major effect of increased horizontal resolution is in the superposition of circulations forced by local-scale topography upon the large-scale surface wind patterns. While passive predictions of dust lifting are generally insensitive to model horizontal resolution when no lifting threshold is considered, increasing the stress threshold produces significantly more lifting in higher resolution simulations with the generation of finer-scale, higher-stress winds due primarily to better-resolved topography. Considering the positive feedbacks expected for radiatively active dust lifting, we expect this bias to increase when such feedbacks are permitted.