Effects of a large convective storm on Saturn's equatorial jet

Kunio M. Sayanagi, Adam P. Showman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Hubble Space Telescope observations revealed that Saturn's equatorial jet at the cloud level blows at ∼275 m s-1 today, approximately half the ∼470 m s-1 wind during the Voyager flybys in 1980-1981. Radiative transfer calculations estimate the clouds to be significantly higher today than in 1980. The higher clouds make it difficult to observationally isolate any true slowdown from the vertical wind shear because Voyager and Cassini observations show that the winds become slower with altitude. Here, we test the hypothesis that the large equatorial storm in 1990 called the Great White Spot (GWS) decelerated the equatorial jet. We first use order of magnitude estimates to show: (1) if the GWS triggers vertical momentum redistribution, a minor speed change in the troposphere can lead to a substantial stratospheric wind speed change; (2) storm-triggered turbulent mixing slows a prograde equatorial jet; and (3) a prograde equatorial jet inhibits turbulent mixing in latitude. To test whether a GWS-like large storm decelerates the equatorial jet, we perform numerical experiments using the Explicit Planetary Isentropic Coordinate (EPIC) atmosphere model. Our simulation results are consistent with our order of magnitude predictions. We show that the storm excites waves, and the waves transport westward momentum from the troposphere to the stratosphere and decelerate the equatorial jet by as much as ∼40 m s-1 at the 10-mbar level. However, our results show that the storm's effect is too weak at the cloud levels to halve the jet's speed from ∼470 m s-1. Our results suggest that a combination of higher clouds and a true slowdown is necessary to explain the apparent equatorial jet slowdown. We also analyze the effect of waves on the apparent cloud motions, and show that waves can influence cloud-tracking wind speed measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-539
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Atmospheres
  • Meteorology
  • Saturn
  • atmosphere
  • dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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