In their pioneering work, Leighton and Murray argued that the Mars atmosphere, which at present is 95% carbon dioxide, is controlled by vapor equilibrium with a much larger polar reservoir of solid carbon dioxide. Here we argue that the polar reservoir is small and cannot function as a long-term buffer to the more massive atmosphere. Our work is based on modeling of the circular depressions commonly found on the south polar cap. We argue that a carbon dioxide ice layer about 8 meters thick is being etched away to reveal water ice underneath. This is consistent with thermal infrared data from the Mars Odyssey mission.
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