Could cirrus clouds have warmed early Mars?

Ramses M. Ramirez, James F. Kasting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The presence of the ancient valley networks on Mars indicates that the climate at 3.8 Ga was warm enough to allow substantial liquid water to flow on the martian surface for extended periods of time. However, the mechanism for producing this warming continues to be debated. One hypothesis is that Mars could have been kept warm by global cirrus cloud decks in a CO2[sbnd]H2O atmosphere containing at least 0.25 bar of CO2 (Urata and Toon, 2013). Initial warming from some other process, e.g., impacts, would be required to make this model work. Those results were generated using the CAM 3-D global climate model. Here, we use a single-column radioactive-convective climate model to further investigate the cirrus cloud warming hypothesis. Our calculations indicate that cirrus cloud decks could have produced global mean surface temperatures above freezing, but only if cirrus cloud cover approaches ∼75 – 100% and if other cloud properties (e.g., height, optical depth, particle size) are chosen favorably. However, at more realistic cirrus cloud fractions, or if cloud parameters are not optimal, cirrus clouds do not provide the necessary warming, suggesting that other greenhouse mechanisms are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-261
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Could cirrus clouds have warmed early Mars?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this