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Published January 2015 | Published
Journal Article Open

Scaling of Off-Equatorial Jets in Giant Planet Atmospheres


In the off-equatorial region of Jupiter's and Saturn's atmospheres, baroclinic eddies transport angular momentum out of retrograde and into prograde jets. In a statistically steady state, this angular momentum transfer by eddies must be balanced by dissipation, likely produced by magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) drag in the planetary interior. This paper examines systematically how an idealized representation of this drag in a general circulation model (GCM) of the upper atmosphere of giant planets modifies jet characteristics, the angular momentum budget, and the energy budget. In the GCM, Rayleigh drag at an artificial lower boundary (with mean pressure of 3 bar) is used as a simple representation of the MHD drag that the flow on giant planets experiences at depth. As the drag coefficient decreases, the eddy length scale and eddy kinetic energy increase, as they do in studies of two-dimensional turbulence. Off-equatorial jets become wider and stronger, with increased interjet spacing. Coherent vortices also become more prevalent. Generally, the jet width scales with the Rhines scale, which is of similar magnitude as the Rossby radius in the simulations. The jet strength increases primarily through strengthening of the barotropic component, which increases as the drag coefficient decreases because the overall kinetic energy dissipation remains roughly constant. The overall kinetic energy dissipation remains roughly constant presumably because it is controlled by baroclinic conversion of potential to kinetic energy in the upper troposphere, which is mainly determined by the differential solar radiation and is only weakly dependent on bottom drag and barotropic flow variations. For Jupiter and Saturn, these results suggest that the wider and stronger jets on Saturn may arise because the MHD drag on Saturn is weaker than on Jupiter, while the thermodynamic efficiencies of the atmospheres are not sensitive to the drag parameters.

Additional Information

© 2015 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 7 December 2013, in final form 3 September 2014. This work was supported by the NASA Outer Planets Research Program (Grant NNX10AQ05G) and by the National Science Foundation (Grant AGS-1049201).

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