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The deep atmosphere of Venus and the possible role of density-driven separation of CO_2 and N_2

Lebonnois, Sebastien and Schubert, Gerald (2017) The deep atmosphere of Venus and the possible role of density-driven separation of CO_2 and N_2. Nature Geoscience, 10 (7). pp. 473-477. ISSN 1752-0894. http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20180803-104849470

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Abstract

With temperatures around 700 K and pressures of around 75 bar, the deepest 12 km of the atmosphere of Venus are so hot and dense that the atmosphere behaves like a supercritical fluid. The Soviet VeGa-2 probe descended through the atmosphere in 1985 and obtained the only reliable temperature profile for the deep Venusian atmosphere thus far. In this temperature profile, the atmosphere appears to be highly unstable at altitudes below 7 km, contrary to expectations. We argue that the VeGa-2 temperature profile could be explained by a change in the atmospheric gas composition, and thus molecular mass, with depth. We propose that the deep atmosphere consists of a non-homogeneous layer in which the abundance of N_2—the second most abundant constituent of the Venusian atmosphere after CO_2—gradually decreases to near-zero at the surface. It is difficult to explain a decline in N_2 towards the surface with known nitrogen sources and sinks for Venus. Instead we suggest, partly based on experiments on supercritical fluids, that density-driven separation of N_2 from CO_2 can occur under the high pressures of Venus’s deep atmosphere, possibly by molecular diffusion, or by natural density-driven convection. If so, the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere of Venus is 15% lower than commonly assumed. We suggest that similar density-driven separation could occur in other massive planetary atmospheres.


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Alternate Title:The deep atmosphere of Venus and the possible role of density-driven separation of CO2 and N2
Additional Information:© 2017 Springer Nature. Received 15 February 2017; accepted 16 May 2017; published online 26 June 2017. The authors thank L. Zasova for providing the VeGa-2 probe temperature profile, and J. Bellan for mentioning barodiffusion and useful discussion on this phenomenon. S.L. acknowledges the support of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales. G.S. acknowledges the support of the Keck Institute for Space Studies under the project ‘Techniques and technologies for investigating the interior structure of Venus’. Author Contributions. Both authors contributed equally to the manuscript. Code availability. The LMD Venus GCM used in this study is developed in the corresponding author’s team. It is available upon request. Data availability. The VeGa-2 temperature profile was kindly provided by L. Zasova. It is available from the corresponding author upon request. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Group:Keck Institute for Space Studies
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Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES)UNSPECIFIED
Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS)UNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180803-104849470
Persistent URL:http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20180803-104849470
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:88569
Collection:CaltechAUTHORS
Deposited By: Iryna Chatila
Deposited On:03 Aug 2018 18:29
Last Modified:03 Aug 2018 18:29

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