Triton's surface-atmosphere energy balance

John A. Stansberry, Roger V. Yelle, Jonathan I. Lunine, Alfred S. McEwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We explore the energetics of Triton's surface-atmosphere system using a model that includes the turbulent transfer of sensible heat as well as insolation, reradiation, and latent heat transport. The model relies on a 1° by 1° resolution hemispheric bolometric albedo map of Triton for determining the atmospheric temperature, the N2 frost emissivity, and the temperatures of unfrosted portions of the surface consistent with a frost temperature of ≅38 K. For a physically plausible range of heat transfer coefficients, we find that the atmospheric temperature roughly 1 km above the surface is approximately 1 to 3 K hotter than the surface. Atmospheric temperatures of 48 K suggested by early analysis of radio occultation data cannot be obtained for plausible values of the heat transfer coefficients. Our calculations indicate that Triton's N2 frosts must have an emissivity well below unity in order to have a temperature of ≅38 K, consistent with previous results. We also find that convection over small hot spots does not significantly cool them off, so they may be able to act as continous sources of buoyancy for convective plumes, but have not explored whether the convection is vigorous enough to entrain particulate matter thereby forming a dust devil. Our elevated atmospheric temperatures make geyser driven plumes with initial upward velocities ≤10 m s-1 stagnate in the lower atmosphere. These "wimpy" plumes provide a possible explanation for Triton's "wind streaks.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-260
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Triton's surface-atmosphere energy balance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this