First Symposium on Planetary Atmospheres


The dynamics and structure of Titan's middle atmosphere

F. Michael Flasar, NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, MD

Titan, after Venus, is the second example in the solar system of an atmosphere with a global cyclostrophic circulation. The origin and maintenance of these superrotating atmospheres is not well understood, but Titan has a strong seasonal modulation in the middle atmosphere, and the seasonal changes in the winds may offer clues. The pole in winter and early spring is characterized by temperatures 20-30 K cooler at 100-170 km than those at low latitudes, and strong circumpolar winds as high as 190 m s-1 at 200-250 km. At these levels the polar region is characterized by enhanced concentrations of several organic gases, and also detectable condensates. All this suggests that the polar vortex provides a mixing barrier between winter polar and lower-latitude air masses, analogous to the winter polar vortices on Earth. Because the concentrations of organic gases increase with altitude in the middle atmosphere, the observed enhancements suggest subsidence over the winter pole. Consistent with this are the observed temperatures ~200 K at the winter-polar stratopause (280 km), making it the warmest part of the atmosphere. The warm stratopause likely results from adiabatic heating associated with the subsidence. Recent observations in late northern winter and early spring indicate that the warm anomaly at the winter-polar stratopause is weakening, and the strong zonal winds are weakening. Curiously, the stratospheric zonal winds and temperatures in both hemispheres are symmetric about a pole that is offset from the surface pole by ~4 degrees. The cause of this is not well understood, but it may reflect the response of a cyclostrophic circulation to the offset between the equator, where the distance to the rotation axis is greatest, and the seasonally varying subsolar latitude.

Recorded presentation

Session 2, Numerical modeling of planetary meteorology and climate dynamics
Wednesday, 20 January 2010, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM, B314

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