Seasonal Variations in Atmospheric Composition as Measured in Gale Crater, Mars

Melissa G. Trainer*, Michael H. Wong, Timothy H. McConnochie, Heather B. Franz, Sushil K. Atreya, Pamela G. Conrad, Franck Lefèvre, Paul R. Mahaffy, Charles A. Malespin, Heidi L. K. Manning, Javier Martín-Torres, Germán. M. Martínez, Christopher P. McKay, Rafael Navarro-González, Álvaro Vicente-Retortillo, Christopher R. Webster, María-Paz Zorzano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
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The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument onboard the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover measures the chemical composition of major atmospheric species (CO2, N2, 40Ar, O2, and CO) through a dedicated atmospheric inlet. We report here measurements of volume mixing ratios in Gale Crater using the SAM quadrupole mass spectrometer, obtained over a period of nearly 5 years (3 Mars years) from landing. The observation period spans the northern summer of MY 31 and solar longitude (LS) of 175° through spring of MY 34, LS = 12°. This work expands upon prior reports of the mixing ratios measured by SAM QMS in the first 105 sols of the mission. The SAM QMS atmospheric measurements were taken periodically, with a cumulative coverage of four or five experiments per season on Mars. Major observations include the seasonal cycle of CO2, N2, and Ar, which lags approximately 20-40° of LS behind the pressure cycle driven by CO2 condensation and sublimation from the winter poles. This seasonal cycle indicates that transport occurs on faster timescales than mixing. The mixing ratio of O2 shows significant seasonal and interannual variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work. The O2 measurements are compared to several parameters, including dust optical depth and trace CH4 measurements by Curiosity. We derive annual mean volume mixing ratios for the atmosphere in Gale Crater: CO2 = 0.951 (±0.003), N2 = 0.0259 (±0.0006), 40Ar = 0.0194 (±0.0004), O2 = 1.61 (±0.09) x 10-3, and CO = 5.8 (±0.8) x 10-4.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3000-3024
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research - Planets
Issue number11
Early online date21 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

All MSL data used in this manuscript (REMS and SAM) are freely available on NASA's Planetary Data System (PDS) Geosciences Node, from within 6 months after receipt on Earth (http://pds‐ The mixing ratios developed and presented in this paper are available at a publicly available archive ( as cited within the manuscript. The successful operation of the Curiosity rover and the SAM instrument on Mars is due to the hard work and dedication of hundreds of scientists, engineers, and managers over more than a decade. Essential contributions to the successful operation of SAM on Mars and the acquisition of SAM data were provided by the SAM development, operations, and test bed teams. The authors gratefully thank the SAM and MSL teams that have contributed in numerous ways to obtain the data that enabled this scientific work. We also thank NASA for the support of the development of SAM, SAM data analysis, and the continued support of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The contribution of F. Lefèvre was supported by the Programme National de Planétologie (PNP). R. Navarro‐Gonzalez acknowledges support from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (PAPIIT IN111619). LPI is operated by USRA under a cooperative agreement with the Science Mission Directorate of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We thank members of the SAM and larger MSL team for insightful discussions and support. In particular, we thank R. Becker and R. O. Pepin for careful review of data analysis and interpretation. We thank M. D. Smith for discussion of CRISM CO measurements. We thank A. Brunner, M. Johnson, and M. Lefavor for their development of customized data analysis tools used here and in other SAM publications.


  • atmospheric composition
  • Mars atmosphere
  • Mars seasonal cycle
  • Mars Science Laboratory
  • sample analysis mars


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