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Published March 2009 | Published
Journal Article Open

Formation of jets and equatorial superrotation on Jupiter


The zonal flow in Jupiter's upper troposphere is organized into alternating retrograde and prograde jets, with a prograde (superrotating) jet at the equator. Existing models posit as the driver of the flow either differential radiative heating of the atmosphere or intrinsic heat fluxes emanating from the deep interior; however, they do not reproduce all large-scale features of Jupiter's jets and thermal structure. Here it is shown that the difficulties in accounting for Jupiter's jets and thermal structure resolve if the effects of differential radiative heating and intrinsic heat fluxes are considered together, and if upper-tropospheric dynamics are linked to a magnetohydrodynamic(MHD)drag that acts deep in the atmosphere and affects the zonal flow away from but not near the equator. Baroclinic eddies generated by differential radiative heating can account for the off-equatorial jets; meridionally propagating equatorial Rossby waves generated by intrinsic convective heat fluxes can account for the equatorial superrotation. The zonal flow extends deeply into the atmosphere, with its speed changing with depth, away from the equator up to depths at which the MHD drag acts. The theory is supported by simulations with an energetically consistent general circulation model of Jupiter's outer atmosphere. A simulation that incorporates differential radiative heating and intrinsic heat fluxes reproduces Jupiter's observed jets and thermal structure and makes testable predictions about as yet unobserved aspects thereof. A control simulation that incorporates only differential radiative heating but not intrinsic heat fluxes produces off-equatorial jets but no equatorial superrotation; another control simulation that incorporates only intrinsic heat fluxes but not differential radiative heating produces equatorial superrotation but no off-equatorial jets. The proposed mechanisms for the formation of jets and equatorial superrotation likely act in the atmospheres of all giant planets.

Additional Information

© 2009 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 31 March 2008, in final form 24 September 2008. This work was supported by a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship. The GCM is based on the Flexible Modeling System of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; the simulations were performed on Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences Dell cluster. We thank Isaac Held, Andrew Ingersoll, Yohai Kaspi, Paul O'Gorman, Adam Sobel, David Stevenson, and Paul Wennberg for comments on drafts of this paper and Paul O'Gorman for providing code for the calculation of spectral energy fluxes.

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