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Published April 2010 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Atmospheric Dynamics of Earth-Like Tidally Locked Aquaplanets


We present simulations of atmospheres of Earth-like aquaplanets that are tidally locked to their star, that is, planets whose orbital period is equal to the rotation period about their spin axis, so that one side always faces the star and the other side is always dark. Such simulations are of interest in the study of tidally locked terrestrial exoplanets and as illustrations of how planetary rotation and the insolation distribution shape climate. As extreme cases illustrating the effects of slow and rapid rotation, we consider planets with rotation periods equal to one current Earth year and one current Earth day. The dynamics responsible for the surface climate (e.g., winds, temperature, precipitation) and the general circulation of the atmosphere are discussed in light of existing theories of atmospheric circulations. For example, as expected from the increasing importance of Coriolis accelerations relative to inertial accelerations as the rotation rate increases, the winds are approximately isotropic and divergent at leading order in the slowly rotating atmosphere but are predominantly zonal and rotational in the rapidly rotating atmosphere. Free-atmospheric horizontal temperature variations in the slowly rotating atmosphere are generally weaker than in the rapidly rotating atmosphere. Interestingly, the surface temperature on the night side of the planets does not fall below ∼240 K in either the rapidly or slowly rotating atmosphere; that is, heat transport from the day side to the night side of the planets efficiently reduces temperature contrasts in either case. Rotational waves and eddies shape the distribution of winds, temperature, and precipitation in the rapidly rotating atmosphere; in the slowly rotating atmosphere, these distributions are controlled by simpler divergent circulations. Both the slowly and rapidly rotating atmospheres exhibit equatorial superrotation. Systematic variation of the planetary rotation rate shows that the equatorial superrotation varies non-monotonically with rotation rate, whereas the surface temperature contrast between the day side and the night side does not vary strongly with changes in rotation rate.

Additional Information

© 2010 American Geophysical Union. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Manuscript submitted 26 January 2010; in final form 14 June 2010. Timothy Merlis was supported by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowship. We thank Dorian Abbot and Sonja Graves for providing modifications to the GCM code and Simona Bordoni, Ian Eisenman, Andy Ingersoll, Yohai Kaspi, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. The simulations were performed on Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences Dell cluster. The program code for the simulations, based on the Flexible Modeling System of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the simulation results themselves are available from the authors upon request.

Attached Files

Published - tidally_locked.pdf

Supplemental Material - jame29-sup-0001-tab01.txt


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