New insights into martian atmospheric chemistry

C. S. Boxe, J. S. Francisco, R. L. Shia, Y. L. Yung, H. Nair, M. C. Liang, A. Saiz-Lopez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


HOx radicals are produced in the martian atmosphere by the photolysis of water vapor and subsequently participate in catalytic cycles that recycle carbon dioxide (CO2) from its photolysis product carbon monoxide (CO), providing a qualitative explanation for the stability of its atmosphere. Balancing CO2 production and loss based on our current understanding of martian gas-phase chemistry has, however, proven to be difficult. The photolysis of O3 produces O(1D), while oxidation of CO produces HOCO radicals, a new member of the HOx family. The O(1D) quantum yield has recently been updated, which quantifies nonzero quantum yields in the Huggins bands. In Earth's atmosphere HOCO is considered to be unimportant since it is quickly removed by abundant oxygen molecules. The smaller amount of O2 in the Mars' atmosphere causes HOCO's lifetime to be longer in Mars' atmosphere than Earth's (3×10-5s to 1.2days from Mars's surface to 240km, respectively). Limited kinetic data on reactions involving HOCO prevented consideration of its reactions directly in atmospheric models. Therefore, the impact of HOCO reactions on martian chemistry is currently unknown. Here, we incorporate new literature rate constants for HOCO chemistry and an updated representation of the O(1D) quantum yield in the Caltech/JPL 1-D photochemical model for Mars' atmosphere. Our simulations exemplify perturbations to NOy, HOx, and COx species, ranging from 5% to 50%. The modified O(1D) quantum yield and new HOCO chemistry cause a 10% decrease and a 50% increase in OH and H2O2 total column abundances, respectively. At low altitudes, HOCO production contributes 5% towards CO2 production. Given recent experimentally-obtained branching ratios for the oxidation of CO, HOCO may contribute up to 70% toward the production of NOy, where HOx and NOy species are enhanced up to a factor 3, which has implications for rethinking the fundamental understanding of NOy, HOx, and CO/CO2 cycling on Mars. Two new reaction mechanisms for converting CO to CO2 using HOCO reactions are proposed, which reveal that H2O2 is more intimately coupled to COx chemistry. Our simulations are in good agreement with satellite/spacecraft measurements of CO and H2O2 on Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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