pure and applied geophysics

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 157–186 | Cite as

General circulation of the solar atmosphere from observational evidence

  • Fred Ward


One of the main results of the rotating cylinder experiments ofFultz andHide is that the general flow regime in them is essentially determined by the ratio of the angular velocity of the fluid motions (relative to the cylinder) to that of the cylinder itself. Extending these results to the atmosphere of the sun, leads to the hypothesis that the layer in which spots are imbedded should exhibit a non-axially symmetric pattern, of theRossby type.

The fluid motions, characteristic of such a general circulation pattern, are mainly along spherical surfaces, and have a wavelike (eddy) appearance similar to the planetary waves in the upper troposphere of the terrestrial atmosphere. These eddies transport momentum along these spherical surfaces from regions of relatively lower angular velocity to regions of higher velocity. Tracers (e.g., sunspots) imbedded is such a flow would show a correlation between their proper motions in latitude and longitude, such that spots moving equatorward will tend to have larger longitudinal motions (toward the west limb), and vice versa.

Analysis of ten years (1935 to 1944) of Greenwich spot data shows a consistent, and (statistically) very significant correlation of spot group proper motions, in the proper sense. These results provide strong support for the existence of large-scale waves which are some modest fraction of the solar circumference, but larger than the sunspot groups. Moreover, these waves transport angular momentum (up the gradient of angular velocity) toward the equatorial regions from higher latitudes across at least the entire sunspot zone. It is not known, however, whether these eddies are the primary (or only) source of momentum to maintain the ‘equatorial acceleration’ of the sun. However, if this source were shut off, and all other processes continued unabated, this layer of the sun between latitudes ±20° would reach solid rotation in about 51/2 rotations.

Because this eddy transport of momentum is counter to the gradient of angular velocity, there is an implied transformation of the kinetic energy of the eddies into the kinetic energy of the mean east-west flow. Of possibly even more interest, however, might be the possibility of transfers of kinetic energy between eddies of all different scale sizes extending down the entire spectrum to include sunspot groups and the spots themselves. Moreover, some eddy size(s) in this layer is likely to be primarily responsible for a conversion of potential to kinetic energy.

A result of subsidiary interest is the systematically higher value of solar rotation (at all latitudes) derivable from this data, which includes all spots which survive for at least two days. In contrast to the work of previous authors who used only long-lived spots, the result obtained when many small spots are used, indicates perhaps a variation of the rotation rate with height in the solar atmosphere.

The results provide no evidence to indicate the existence of significant meridional circulations (latitudinal driffs).


Angular Velocity Solar Atmosphere Proper Motion Planetary Wave Meridional Circulation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1964

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred Ward
    • 1
  1. 1.Air Force Cambridge Research LaboratoriesBedfordU.S.A.

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