Heat balance in Titan's atmosphere

M. G. Tomasko, B. Bézard, L. Doose, S. Engel, E. Karkoschka, S. Vinatier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The recent measurements of the vertical distribution and optical properties of haze aerosols as well as of the absorption coefficients for methane at long paths and cold temperatures by the Huygens entry probe of Titan permit the computation of the solar heating rate on Titan with greater certainty than heretofore. We use the haze model derived from the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) instrument on the Huygens probe [Tomasko, M.G., Doose, L., Engel, S., Dafoe, L.E., West, R., Lemmon, M., Karkoschka, E., See, C., 2008a. A model of Titan's aerosols based on measurements made inside the atmosphere. Planet. Space Sci., this issue, doi:10.1016/j.pss.2007.11.019] to evaluate the variation in solar heating rate with altitude and solar zenith angle in Titan's atmosphere. We find the disk-averaged solar energy deposition profile to be in remarkably good agreement with earlier estimates using very different aerosol distributions and optical properties. We also evaluated the radiative cooling rate using measurements of the thermal emission spectrum by the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) around the latitude of the Huygens site. The thermal flux was calculated as a function of altitude using temperature, gas, and haze profiles derived from Huygens and Cassini/CIRS data. We find that the cooling rate profile is in good agreement with the solar heating profile averaged over the planet if the haze structure is assumed the same at all latitudes. We also computed the solar energy deposition profile at the 10°S latitude of the probe-landing site averaged over one Titan day. We find that some 80% of the sunlight that strikes the top of the atmosphere at this latitude is absorbed in all, with 60% of the incident solar energy absorbed below 150 km, 40% below 80 km, and 11% at the surface at the time of the Huygens landing near the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere. We compare the radiative cooling rate with the solar heating rate near the Huygens landing site averaging over all longitudes. At this location, we find that the solar heating rate exceeds the radiative cooling rate by a maximum of 0.5 K/Titan day near 120 km altitude and decreases strongly above and below this altitude. Since there is no evidence that the temperature structure at this latitude is changing, the general circulation must redistribute this heat to higher latitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)648-659
Number of pages12
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Heat balance
  • Huygens
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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