Vast Deserts on Mars

Initial Publication Date: October 23, 2012


Using a Sandbox experiment and Google Earth students will study the formation of dunes and relate their observations to Mars dune field imagery.

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Learning Goals

Students will be able to:
  • Identify wind current directions on Earth and Mars.
  • Explain the formation of certain dune morphologies.
  • Use Google Earth to identify changing paleocurrent direction, bounding surfaces, and their potential to be observed/preserved on Mars.

Context for Use

This learning module is meant for adaptation in an introductory earth science course and/or planetary science course. The In-Class Activities can be easily adapted for homework when desired.

Description and Teaching Materials

Compiled In-Class Activities and Homework


In-Class Activity


Teaching Notes and Tips

  • For larger classes (>20 students) you can either create your own Sandbox Dune demonstration or use the Video demonstration (see Resources).
  • In Homework 1: students will need a clear understanding of how dunes and dune processes are recorded in the rock record (marching away from you, toward you, paleocurrent direction etc.).
  • You will often integrate the Explain and Explore sections of the In-Class Activities. Interact with the students as they "explore" and help them define terms/principles (Ex: Sandbox Dunes).


Methods of assessment are within each individual In-Class Activity and Homework.

References and Resources

  1. Image file: Vast Deserts on Mars (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.8MB Oct31 12)
  2. Antarctica Ventifacts (image to the right)
  3. Sand Box Dune Video (MP4 Video 28MB Mar11 14)
  4. Grotzinger, J.P. et al., 2005. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of a dry to wet eolian depositional system, Burns formation, Meridiani Planum, Mars. Earth & Planetary Science Letters, v. 240, p.11-72.
  5. Burns Formation PanCam Sol 288 (link down)