Simulations suggest more wind than thought on Mars for powering turbines

A pair of researchers at NASA working with a colleague from the University of Colorado at Boulder and another from the University of Washington-Seattle has found evidence suggesting that there might be enough wind on Mars to power wind turbines after all. In their study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the group adapted a climate model to simulate conditions on Mars and to learn about wind patterns and strength.

Prior research has suggested that because Mars has such a thin atmosphere, it is not likely that wind could be used to power turbines to generate electricity for use by human visitors or later colonists. In this new effort, the researchers took a closer look at wind on Mars and its possible use as a power source.

To simulate conditions on Mars, the researchers adapted a climate model originally developed to study the climate on Earth. Their Mars-based changes allowed them to use factors such as solar radiation amounts, dust levels and heat energy, along with geographical terrain, to simulate wind conditions on different parts of the planet’s surface.

Once they had their model up and running, the researchers used it to simulate the climate on Mars over several years. They found that many parts of Mars experience strong enough winds to assist with power generation, and a few areas had enough wind to serve as a sole source of power generation.

The areas that were found to be most suitable for generating wind power were crater rims and volcanic highlands. The researchers also found that around the poles, winds picked up speed and strength when blowing over ice formations. In a few of the locations they looked at, they found that more power could be generated by wind than by solar arrays.

The researchers suggest their work indicates that large turbines could be built in certain areas to generate large amounts of power—most particularly in seasonally icy regions in the northern part of the planet. They also suggest that such turbines would have to be made from different materials than those here on Earth due to weight constraints.

More information: V. L. Hartwick et al, Assessment of wind energy resource potential for future human missions to Mars, Nature Astronomy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01851-4