Once sand gets moving on Mars, wind speeds can drop by a factor of 10 and still be strong enough to transport as much sand as what moves around many places on Earth, the new study shows.
The amount of sand moving around Nili Patera, for example, could fill up a children's sandbox each year, estimates Nathan Bridges, a planetary scientist with Johns Hopkins University.
That may not sound like much, but it adds up over time. It also may explain why many landscapes on Mars are so eroded.
One prominent example can be found inside Gale Crater, the landing site for NASA's upcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is scheduled to begin in August.
At the center of the crater is a three-mile-high mound of debris, believed to be the eroded remnants of sediment that once filled the basin.
"We show a mechanism where this blowing sand can actually erode rock, can erode landscapes. It can be a fairly active process in the current environment," Bridges told Discovery News.
"Up to a few years ago, it was uncertain how much the sand dunes were moving on Mars, or even if they were moving at all," Bridges added.