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Evolution of stratospheric chemistry in the Saturn storm beacon region

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-03-03, 12:30 authored by J. I. Moses, E. S. Armstrong, Leigh Nicholas Fletcher, A. J. Friedson, P. G. J. Irwin, J. A. Sinclair, B. E. Hesman
The giant northern-hemisphere storm that erupted on Saturn in December 2010 triggered significant changes in stratospheric temperatures and species abundances that persisted for more than a year after the original outburst. The stratospheric regions affected by the storm have been nicknamed “beacons” due to their prominent infrared-emission signatures (Fletcher, L.N. et al. [2011]. Science 332, 1413). The two beacon regions that were present initially merged in April 2011 to form a single, large, anticyclonic vortex (Fletcher, L.N. et al. [2012]. Icarus 221, 560). We model the expected photochemical evolution of the stratospheric constituents in the beacons from the initial storm onset through the merger and on out to March 2012. The results are compared with longitudinally resolved Cassini/CIRS spectra from May 2011. If we ignore potential changes due to vertical winds within the beacon, we find that C2H2, C2H6, and C3H8 remain unaffected by the increased stratospheric temperatures in the beacon, the abundance of the shorter-lived CH3C2H decreases, and the abundance of C2H4 increases significantly due to the elevated temperatures, the latter most notably in a secondary mixing-ratio peak located near mbar pressures. The C4H2 abundance in the model decreases by a factor of a few in the 0.01–10 mbar region but has a significant increase in the 10–30 mbar region due to evaporation of the previously condensed phase. The column abundances of C6H6 and H2O above ∼30 mbar also increase due to aerosol evaporation. Model-data comparisons show that models that consider temperature changes alone underpredict the abundance of C2Hx species by a factor of 2–7 in the beacon core in May 2011, suggesting that other processes not considered by the models, such as downwelling winds in the vortex, are affecting the species profiles. Additional calculations indicate that downwelling winds of order -10-10 cm s−1 near ∼0.1 mbar need to be included in the photochemical models in order to explain the inferred C2Hx abundances in the beacon core, indicating that both strong subsiding winds and chemistry at elevated temperatures are affecting the vertical profiles of atmospheric constituents in the beacon. We (i) discuss the general chemical behavior of stratospheric species in the beacon region, (ii) demonstrate how the evolving beacon environment affects the species vertical profiles and emission characteristics (both with and without the presence of vertical winds), (iii) make predictions with respect to compositional changes that can be tested against Cassini and Herschel data, and higher-spectral-resolution ground-based observations of the beacon region, and (iv) discuss future measurements and modeling that could further our understanding of the dynamical origin, evolution, and chemical processing within these unexpected stratospheric vortices that were generated after the 2010 convective event.



Icarus, 2015, 261, pp. 149-168 (20)

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Physics and Astronomy


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