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Observations and Modeling of Tropical Planetary Atmospheres


Laraia, Anne Louise (2016) Observations and Modeling of Tropical Planetary Atmospheres. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9J1012T.


This thesis is a comprised of three different projects within the topic of tropical atmospheric dynamics. First, I analyze observations of thermal radiation from Saturn’s atmosphere and from them, determine the latitudinal distribution of ammonia vapor near the 1.5-bar pressure level. The most prominent feature of the observations is the high brightness temperature of Saturn’s subtropical latitudes on either side of the equator. After comparing the observations to a microwave radiative transfer model, I find that these subtropical bands require very low ammonia relative humidity below the ammonia cloud layer in order to achieve the high brightness temperatures observed. We suggest that these bright subtropical bands represent dry zones created by a meridionally overturning circulation.

Second, I use a dry atmospheric general circulation model to study equatorial superrotation in terrestrial atmospheres. A wide range of atmospheres are simulated by varying three parameters: the pole-equator radiative equilibrium temperature contrast, the convective lapse rate, and the planetary rotation rate. A scaling theory is developed that establishes conditions under which superrotation occurs in terrestrial atmospheres. The scaling arguments show that superrotation is favored when the off-equatorial baroclinicity and planetary rotation rates are low. Similarly, superrotation is favored when the convective heating strengthens, which may account for the superrotation seen in extreme global-warming simulations.

Third, I use a moist slab-ocean general circulation model to study the impact of a zonally-symmetric continent on the distribution of monsoonal precipitation. I show that adding a hemispheric asymmetry in surface heat capacity is sufficient to cause symmetry breaking in both the spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation. This spatial symmetry breaking can be understood from a large-scale energetic perspective, while the temporal symmetry breaking requires consideration of the dynamical response to the heat capacity asymmetry and the seasonal cycle of insolation. Interestingly, the idealized monsoonal precipitation bears resemblance to precipitation in the Indian monsoon sector, suggesting that this work may provide insight into the causes of the temporally asymmetric distribution of precipitation over southeast Asia.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Atmospheric Science, Tropical Dynamics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Environmental Science and Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Bordoni, Simona
Thesis Committee:
  • Wennberg, Paul O. (chair)
  • Schneider, Tapio
  • Ingersoll, Andrew P.
  • Thompson, Andrew F.
  • Bordoni, Simona
Defense Date:22 June 2015
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSF Graduate Research FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06252015-185841054
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9037
Deposited By: Anne Laraia
Deposited On:20 Jul 2015 19:02
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:09

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