Volume 598, February 2017
|Number of page(s)||16|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||07 February 2017|
Condensation-inhibited convection in hydrogen-rich atmospheres
Stability against double-diffusive processes and thermal profiles for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune
1 Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux, Univ. Bordeaux, CNRS, B18N, allée Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 33615 Pessac, France
2 Laboratoire Lagrange, UMR 7293, Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, CNRS, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France
Received: 17 June 2016
Accepted: 20 October 2016
In an atmosphere, a cloud condensation region is characterized by a strong vertical gradient in the abundance of the related condensing species. On Earth, the ensuing gradient of mean molecular weight has relatively few dynamical consequences because N2 is heavier than water vapor, so that only the release of latent heat significantly impacts convection. On the contrary, in a hydrogen dominated atmosphere (e.g., giant planets), all condensing species are significantly heavier than the background gas. This can stabilize the atmosphere against convection near a cloud deck if the enrichment in the given species exceeds a critical threshold. This raises two questions. What is transporting energy in such a stabilized layer, and how affected can the thermal profile of giant planets be? To answer these questions, we first carry out a linear analysis of the convective and double-diffusive instabilities in a condensable medium showing that an efficient condensation can suppress double-diffusive convection. This suggests that a stable radiative layer can form near a cloud condensation level, leading to an increase in the temperature of the deep adiabat. Then, we investigate the impact of the condensation of the most abundant species (water) with a steady-state atmosphere model. Compared to standard models, the temperature increase can reach several hundred degrees at the quenching depth of key chemical tracers. Overall, this effect could have many implications for our understanding of the dynamical and chemical state of the atmosphere of giant planets, for their future observations (with Juno for example), and for their internal evolution.
Key words: planets and satellites: atmospheres / convection
© ESO, 2017
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