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Condensation-inhibited convection in hydrogen-rich atmospheres: Stability against double-diffusive processes and thermal profiles for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune

J. Leconte 1 Franck Selsis 1 F. Hersant 1 Tristan Guillot 2
1 ECLIPSE 2017
LAB - Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux [Pessac]
Abstract : 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 N$_2$ is heavier than water vapor, so that only the release of latent heat significantly impacts convection. On the contrary, in an 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.
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Contributor : Marie-Paule Pomies <>
Submitted on : Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 8:26:45 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, May 26, 2020 - 6:50:43 PM

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J. Leconte, Franck Selsis, F. Hersant, Tristan Guillot. Condensation-inhibited convection in hydrogen-rich atmospheres: Stability against double-diffusive processes and thermal profiles for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, EDP Sciences, 2017, 598, pp.id.A98. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/201629140⟩. ⟨hal-01384469⟩

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