Atmospheric Dynamics and Meteorology

  • F. M. Flasar
  • K. H. Baines
  • M. K. Bird
  • T. Tokano
  • R. A. West


Titan, after Venus, is the second example in the solar system of an atmosphere with a global cyclostrophic circulation, but in this case a circulation that has a strong seasonal modulation in the middle atmosphere. Direct measurement of Titan's winds, particularly observations tracking the Huygens probe at 10°S, indicate that the zonal winds are mostly in the sense of the satellite's rotation. They generally increase with altitude and become cyclostrophic near 35 km above the surface. An exception to this is a sharp minimum centered near 75 km, where the wind velocity decreases to nearly zero. Zonal winds derived from temperatures retrieved from Cassini orbiter measurements, using the thermal wind equation, indicate a strong winter circumpolar vortex, with maximum winds of 190 m s −1 at mid northern latitudes near 300 km. Above this level, the vortex decays. Curiously, the stratospheric zonal winds and temperatures in both hemispheres are symmetric about a pole that is offset from the surface pole by ~4°. The cause of this is not well understood, but it may reflect the response of a cyclostrophic circulation to the offset between the equator, where the distance to the rotation axis is greatest, and the seasonally varying subsolar latitude. The mean meridional circulation can be inferred from the temperature field and the meridional distribution of organic molecules and condensates and hazes. Both the warm temperatures near 400 km and the enhanced concentration of several organic molecules suggest subsidence in the north-polar region during winter and early spring. Stratospheric condensates are localized at high northern latitudes, with a sharp cut-off near 50°N. Titan's winter polar vortex appears to share many of the same characteristics of isolating high and low-latitude air masses as do the winter polar vortices on Earth that envelop the ozone holes. Global mapping of temperatures, winds, and composition in the troposphere, by contrast, is incomplete. The few suitable discrete clouds that have been found for tracking indicate smaller velocities than aloft, consistent with the Huygens measurements. Along the descent trajectory, the Huygens measurements indicate eastward zonal winds down to 7 km, where they shift westward, and then eastward again below 1 km down to the surface. The low-latitude dune fields seen in Cassini RADAR images have been interpreted as longitudinal dunes occurring in a mean eastward zonal wind. This is not like Earth, where the low-latitude winds are westward above the surface. Because the net zonal-mean time-averaged torque exerted by the surface on the atmosphere should vanish, there must be westward flow over part of the surface; the question is where and when. The meridional contrast in tropospheric temperatures, deduced from radio occultations at low, mid, and high latitudes, is small, ~5 K at the tropopause and ~3 K at the surface. This implies efficient heat transport, probably by axisymmetric meridional circulations. The effect of the methane “hydrological” cycle on the atmospheric circulation is not well constrained by existing measurements. Understanding the nature of the surface-atmosphere coupling will be critical to elucidating the atmospheric transports of momentum, heat, and volatiles.


Zonal Wind Planetary Boundary Layer Very Long Baseline Interferometry Meridional Circulation Middle Atmosphere 
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

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. M. Flasar
  • K. H. Baines
  • M. K. Bird
  • T. Tokano
  • R. A. West

There are no affiliations available

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