DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 45. Outer Planets/Gas Giants I
Oral, Chair: R. A. West, Saturday, September 6, 2003, 10:30am-12:00noon, DeAnza I-II

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[45.04] Moist convective storms in the atmosphere of Saturn

R. Hueso, A. Sánchez-Lavega (UPV/EHU)

Moist convective storms might be a key aspect in the global energy budget of the atmospheres of the Giant Planets. In spite of its dull appearance, Saturn is known to develop the largest scale convective storms in the Solar System, the Great White Spots, the last of them arising in 1990 triggered a planetary scale disturbance that encircled the whole Equatorial region. However, Saturn seems to be very much less convective than Jupiter, being convective storms rare and small for the most part of the cases.

Here we present simulations of moist convective storms in the atmosphere of Saturn at different latitudes, the Equator and 42º S, the regions where most of the convective activity of the planet has been observed. We use a 3D anelastic model of the atmosphere with parameterized microphysics (Hueso and Sánchez-Lavega, 2001) and we study the onset and evolution of moist convective storms. Ammonia storms are able to develop only if the static stability of the upper atmosphere is slightly decreased. Water storms are difficult to develop requiring very specific atmospheric conditions. However, when they develop they can be very energetic arriving at least to the 150 mbar level. The Coriolis forces play a mayor role in the characteristics of water based storms in the atmosphere of Saturn. The 3-D Coriolis forces at the Equator transfer upward momentum to westward motions acting to diminish the strength of the equatorial jet. The GWS of 1990 could have been a mayor force in reducing the intensity of the equatorial jet stream as revealed recently (Sánchez-Lavega et al. Nature, 2003).

The Cassini spacecraft will arrive to Saturn in a year. Its observations of the atmosphere will allow to measure the amount of convective activity on the planet, its characteristics and it will clarify the role of moist convection in the atmospheric dynamics of the Giant Planets.

Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the Spanish MCYT PNAYA 2000-0932. RH acknowledges a Post-doctoral fellowship from Gobierno Vasco.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: wubhualr@lg.ehu.es

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.