I study physical processes on the surfaces of the Earth, the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, mostly processes that involve water ice. Most of my time is spent on computations, small and large, but I also carry out theoretical work, data analysis, and field work.
History of Snow and Ice on the Summits of Hawaii
Public/Outreach presentation, Hilo, Nov 2014
Ice on Mercury and the Moon
Seminar for a general academic audience
most recent version: 2014
Theory of Ice Ages on Mars
Seminar ~1.5 hour
first version: 2007
most recent version: 2013
Lifetime of Ice on Main Belt Asteroids
Seminar based on Schorghofer, ApJ 682, 697–705 (2008) and more recent work.
most recent version: 2011
|Acausal slope-area relations: a short presentation about a topic in quantitative geomorphology
most recent version: 2002
Mars Orbiter Camera observations of seasonal frost at latitude 37°S
Movie in wmv format.
For a detailed description see Schorghofer & Edgett, Icarus 180, 321–334 (2006).
Model calculations of the accumulation of ground ice from
atmospherically derived water vapor under Mars conditions
Movie in wmv format.
For a detailed description see Schorghofer & Aharonson, JGR 110, E05003 (2005).
Permafrost and microclimates in the craters of Mauna Kea: There are numerous cinder cone craters in the summit region of Mauna Kea. Some of these crater interiors are colder than the summit and even contain permafrost. This permafrost might be melting away due to climate warming. We study these exceptionally cold areas with temperature probes, data loggers, and infrared imaging, and conduct geophysical surveys with minimal disturbance to the environment. When there is no wind, cold air pools inside the craters at night; this is where one finds the coldest temperatures ever measured on the Hawaiian Islands (about -18°C).
The study of historical documents about snow on Mauna Kea: In the past, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa had snow more frequently than today [SKN14]. And snow was not uncommon on the island of Kauai in the early 19th century.
Ice-filled lava tubes on Mauna Loa: A cave with permanent ice has been briefly described in 1979 by Kempe and Lockwood. It has lost a significant volume of ice since then, and because the cave is ventilated it could rapidly continue to lose ice [PSSH14]. Another, much larger ice cave was discovered in 2009 by Steven Smith, who named it "Arsia Cave", after a feature on Mars. This cave system has two large permanent ice lakes. The ice contains huge bubbles, indicative of slow freezing rates, and is probably layered. These are the world's geographically most isolated ice caves.
For microclimates inside craters, slopes and shadowing play an even greater role than for planar slopes. Stagnant air can accumulate on the floor of a crater. We study temperatures inside a crater on the high and barren volcano of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. My collaborator Brendan Hermalyn has developed a time-lapse infrared camera system for field work, which provides space and time resolved infrared-derived temperature maps. What makes the cinder cones on Mauna Kea even more interesting is that some of them actually do contain permafrost [W74].
H2O on present-day Mars is never liquid (with perhaps extremely rare exceptions), but changes between solid and vapor directly. This is unlike Earth, where ice is lost primarily through melting rather than through sublimation. Many permafrost processes relevant for Mars occur rarely, if at all, anywhere on Earth. A series of studies has been devoted to the exchange of water vapor between the Martian atmosphere and a porous subsurface.
Stability with respect to sublimation: When the (long-term averaged) absolute humidity in the atmosphere exceeds that of buried ice, the ice is "stable" with respect to sublimation loss, because no net loss occurs. This factor, and specifically the atmospheric water vapor content, may also play a significant role for the persistence of extremely old "fossil" ice in one of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica [S09].
Thermal pumping and in-situ growth of ice from the vapor phase: Temperature cycles can pump water vapor into a porous subsurface. The amplitude of seasonal temperature variations decays quickly with depth, and the nonlinear dependence of saturation vapor pressure on temperature causes a net downward flux. This process has been studied by Mellon and Jakosky in 1993, and only occurs when the atmosphere is humid enough. It leads to the formation of ice in the void spaces. Troy Hudson has reproduced this process in the laboratory [H09]. Remarkably, the ice produced by vapor deposition contains bubbles, which may trap old Martian air.
I1/4-Milankovitch Theory: Milankovitch theories connect orbitally-driven changes in insolation I (incoming solar radiation) with changes in ice volume. When ice is buried, it responds to mean surface temperature more than to peak surface temperature. One may think that mean temperature is related to mean insolation, but this is not always the case on Mars. On Mars at around 60° latitude, annual mean temperature changes with the periodicity of precession cycles and varies little with obliquity cycles [S08].
Three-layered ice distribution: After the last climate event that deposited snow on the surface of Mars (maybe 5 Myr ago), the snow compacted into ice and was gradually buried. Subsequently, interstitial pore ice was deposited in the soil layer by the "pumping" process mentioned above during humid climate periods. Hence, three layers are expected: dry soil, pore ice (from vapor deposition / pumping), and massive (nearly pure) ice. A three-layered structure also explains why the Phoenix Lander mainly saw pore ice, but the neutron spectrometers suggest the top half meter mostly consists of massive ice [S07,SF12].
Another technique to achieve several orders of magnitude of computational speedup is the use of programmable GPUs (Graphics Processing Units). These massively parallel processors (single instruction multiple data architectures) can schedule and process many computational threads in parallel, if an algorithm is suitably structured. My role is to know just enough about GPU hardware and GPU programming to identify scientific models that would greatly benefit from GPU acceleration.