Numerical simulations of forced shallow-water turbulence: Effects of moist convection on the large-scale circulation of Jupiter and Saturn

Adam P. Showman

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84 Scopus citations


To test the hypothesis that the zonal jets on Jupiter and Saturn result from energy injected by thunderstorms into the cloud layer, forced-dissipative numerical simulations of the shallow-water equations in spherical geometry are presented. The forcing consists of sporadic, isolated circular mass pulses intended to represent thunderstorms; the damping, representing radiation, removes mass evenly from the layer. These results show that the deformation radius provides strong control over the behavior. At deformation radii <2000 km (0.03 Jupiter radii), the simulations produce broad jets near the equator, but regions poleward of 15°-30° latitude instead become dominated by vortices. However, simulations at deformation radii >4000 km (0.06 Jupiter radii) become dominated by barotropically stable zonal jets with only weak vortices. The lack of midlatitude jets at a small deformation radii results from the suppression of the beta effect by column stretching; this effect has been previously documented in the quasigeostrophic system but never before in the full shallow-water system. In agreement with decaying shallow-water turbulence simulations, but in disagreement with Jupiter and Saturn, the equatorial flows in these forced simulations are always westward. In analogy with purely two-dimensional turbulence, the size of the coherent structures (jets and vortices) depends on the relative strengths of forcing and damping; stronger damping removes energy faster as it cascades upscale, leading to smaller vortices and more closely spaced jets in the equilibrated state. Forcing and damping parameters relevant to Jupiter produce flows with speeds up to 50-200 m s-1 and a predominance of anticyclones over cyclones, both in agreement with observations. However, the dominance of vortices over jets at deformation radii thought to be relevant to Jupiter (1000-3000 km) suggests that either the actual deformation radius is larger than previously believed or that three-dimensional effects, not included in the shallow-water equations, alter the dynamics in a fundamental manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3132-3157
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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