You are on page 1of 8

Dynamics of Saturns South Polar Vortex Observed by Cassini.

Ulyana A. Dyudina,
Andrew P. Ingersoll,
,Shawn P. Ewald,
Ashwin R. Vasavada
, Robert A. West
Anthony D. Del Genio
, John M. Barbara
, Carolyn C. Porco
, Richard K. Achterberg
, F. Michael Flasar
Amy A. Simon-Miller
, Leigh N. Fletcher
150-21, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 150-21,
Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.
Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, USA.
Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations, Space Science Institute, 4750 Walnut Street, Suite 205,
Boulder, CO 80301, USA.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 693, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Clarendon
Laboratory, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK.

To whom correspondence should be addressed; E-mail:

Solar system exploration revealsMost planets with an atmosphere have a variety of large vortices that
resemble vortices on Earth in some, but not all, respects. Here we present observations of Saturns south
polar vortex (SPV) showing that it shares properties with terrestrial hurricanes -cyclonic circulation (same
direction as the planets spin), a warm central region (the eye) surrounded by a ring of high clouds (the eye-
wall), and convective clouds outside the ring. It also shares properties with the polar vortices on Venus -
polar location, cyclonic circulation, warm center, and long lifetime. A fundamental difference is that neither
Saturn nor Venus has an ocean, which is the energy source for terrestrial hurricanes. The SPVit has a unique
combination of properties among different fromthe known other large vortices in the solar system.
Earth-based telescopic observations (1) revealed a hot spot at Saturns south pole in 2003. Cassini
imaging observations (2, 3) revealed cyclonic rotation around the spot in 2005. To explore this feature
further,Our data are from a series of high-resolution observations over three hours by Cassini were
planned for a three-hour period on 11October 11, 2006. Figure 1 is a Ffalse-color images from those
observations that showsof cloud heights (46). The spatial resolution is 20 km/pixel. The shows a dark,
red central eye looks dark and red in Fig. 1. This indicates indicating a nearly cloud-free upper atmosphere
above lower, tropospheric clouds. The blue-green ring outside the eye indicates high clouds and haze, which
is consistent with uplifted air that has been lifted. The eye has two concentric boundaries. The inner
boundary is oblong (major axis = 2400 km); the outer one is circular (diameter = 4200 km). Throughout this
paper, latitudes are planetocentric and the geometry is that of an oblate spheroid.
The eyewall clouds cast shadows on the clouds inside the eye. Figure 2 demonstrates that the
shadows follow the sun in a counterclockwise direction as the planet turns during the three-hour perioded.
From the shadow lengths, assuming the clouds inside the eye are at and horizontal, we estimate the that
height of the outer wall as is 4020 km high and the height of theat the inner wall as 7030km (7) high. The
latter value, is about twice the pressure scale height of Saturns atmosphere. The eyewalls are consistent with
rising motion above a deeper cloud layer. From the opacity of Saturns atmosphere in the three wavelengths
used in Fig. 1, it appears that tThe eyewall clouds seem to extend up to the tropopause, which is at the 100
mbar level (7).
In Fig. 3A, the points represent the zonal velocity (positive eastward) ofWe tracked the motion of
individual cloud features. The average of the points is the mean peak zonal velocity u. The peak value of
uis was 15020 ms
, and it occurs near the outer eyewall between latitudes -86.5

and -89

.. The smooth
curves assume constant absolute vorticity poleward of latitude 0. Absolute vorticity is related to spin about
a vertical axis and consists of two parts - a part due to motion relative to the planet and a part f due to the
planets rotation. The curves assume + f = f0 =constant, with = 0 and u=0 at = 0. The latitude 0 is
the only free parameter of the curve. Since f f0 in the polar region, the smooth curve has 0 in this
region. Up to latitude -85

the measured uincreases increased slightly more steeplyfaster than the would
maintain a constant + f curvabsolute vorticitye. Poleward of -85

latitude uincreases increased more
slowly than the constant + f curve. Constant absolute vorticity is consistent with horizontal stirring by
eddies. Without the frictional losses by eddies, rings of air moving poleward would produce a prole with
constant angular momentum, which is a much steeper curve than the curve in Fig. 3A and does not t the
data. Instead,Thus, angular momentum in Saturns south polar vortex decreaseds toward the its center. We
observed noNo poleward or equatorward mean motion was detected in our data though the uncertainties are
large (7).
The solid line of Fig. 3B shows the relative vorticity estimated from the measured u(7). Note that
iswas close to zero up to the edge of the eyewall. The points of Fig. 3B show the relative vorticity of the
puffy red clouds seen in Fig. 1 (7). They are anticyclones, with a vorticity in the rangeof 1 1 10
which is 1/3 the magnitude of the planetary vorticity f but of opposite sign. This anticyclonic vorticity is
consistent with a convective origin, since parcels rising from the convective interior should have + f =0
when they spread out in the upper troposphere (8, 9), except that entrainment dilutes this anticyclonic
vorticity with ambient air.
Figure 4 shows 2005 CIRS observations of the warm core (7,10), which was still present in 2006 (see
Fig. S4). The temperature minimum in the left panels of Fig. 4 shows the tropopause at 100 mbar. Cassini
CIRS data show that the vortex is anomalously warm, particularlyTemperature anomalies (right panels)
show the warm core of the vortex as a function of altitude. The maximum anomaly of 5 K is located at
250 mbar, just beneath the tropopause (by 5 K) and in. tThe stratosphere also shows a warm core (3-4 K),
coincident with the vortex eye and warmer than predicted by seasonal radiative models in the absence of
dynamics (11). The warm central core means that the central low pressure, and with it the cyclonic
circulation, should weaken with altitude if the ow is balanced. We searched for this effect using (see a 4-
frame color movie S7) of images like the one in Fig. 1, and found no difference in the wind with altitude but
did not find it, at least at -84

where there were features in the blue-green haze suitable for tracking (7). The
failure of the wind to weaken means that the centrifugal force at high altitudes is not completely balanced by
the inward pressure force. This unbalanced force could drive an outward ow.
The SPV is a warm-core feature with cyclonic relative vorticity.. Like a terrestrial hurricane, It has
an eye, eyewall clouds, and multiple convective clouds outside the eye. In these respects it resembles a
terrestrial hurricane, although However, hurricanes exist in the tropics, are not stationary, and derive their
energy from interaction with the underlying ocean (12, 13). In these important respects the SPV is different
from a terrestrial hurricane. It is fundamentally different from Jupiters Great Red Spot and white ovals,
which are anticyclones with uniformly high clouds at their centers (14). Observations do not cover the poles
of Jupiter well enough to detect a possible vortex there.
The SPV alsoIt resembles the polar vortices on Venus, which are observed at both poles (15, 16)
near the tops of the clouds andwhich have warm, dipole-shaped cores surrounded by cold collars at 70

latitude. The Venus polar vortices seem to exist year-round, but they are not associated with convective
clouds, which are mostly near the equator (16). The SPV is different from Earths Arctic and Antarctic polar
vortices, which are cold-core features that form by radiative cooling in the winter stratosphere and are not
associated with clouds and/or convection (9).
Voyager discovered a large hexagon at 75

latitude surrounding Saturns north pole in 1981. The
feature was rediscovered in the infrared by Cassini in 2006 (17,18). Cassini will get a better view of the
region poleward of 85

after the spring equinox in August 2009, at which time it will become clear if
Saturns north pole also sports a warm-core vortex.
References and Notes
1. G. S. Orton, P. A. Yanamandra-Fisher, Science 307, 696 (2005).
2. A. R. Vasavada, et al., J. Geophys. Res. (Planets) 111, 5004 (2006).
3. A. Sanchez-Lavega, R. Hueso, S. Perez-Hoyos, J. F. Rojas, Icarus 184, 524 (2006).
4. C. C. Porco, et al., Space Sci. Rev. 115, 363 (2004).
5. M. G. Tomasko, R. A. West, G. S. Orton, V. G. Teifel, in Saturn, T. Gehrels, M. S. Matthews, Eds. (Univ.
of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1984), pp. 150194.
6. E. Karkoschka, Icarus 133, 134 (1998).
7. The details of the eyewall height measurement, cloud tracking, vorticity measurements, the cloud movie,
the lifetime of the warm core, and comparison with vortices on other planets
are available as supporting online material (SOM) at Science Online.
8. Ertel potential vorticity (EPV) is a conserved quantity that is proportional to the dot product of the
absolute vorticity and the entropy gradient (9). Since the latter is zero in the convective interior, EPV
must be zero. A rising parcel maintains its value of EPV unless it mixes with other parcels, so if the
parcel rises into a stably stratied layer, it must have +f =0.
9. J. R. Holton, An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology (Elsevier Academic Press, Amsterdam, ed. 4,
10. P. G. J. Irwin, et al., Icarus 172, 37 (2004).
11. L. Fletcher, et al., Science (2007). Submitted.
12. E. Palmen, C. W. Newton, Atmospheric Circulation Systems (Academic Press, New York
and London, 1969). 6 13. R. A. Anthes, Tropical Cyclones. Their Evolution, Structure and Effects
(American Meteorological Society, 1982).
14. F. Bagenal, ed., Jupiter -The Planet, Satellites and Magnetosphere (Oxford University Press, 2001).
15. F. W. Taylor, D. J. McCleese, D. J. Diner, Nature 279, 613 (1979).
16. G. Piccioni, et al., Nature 450, 637 (2007).
17. K. H. Baines, et al., B.A.A.S. 39, 09.02 (2007).
18. Press release
19. F. M. Flasar, et al., Space Sci. Rev. 115, 169 (2004).
20. This research was supported by the NASA Cassini Project.
Supporting Online Material SOM text Fig. S1, S2, S3, S4, and S5 Movies S6 and S7 References

Shorten caption and perhaps combine image w/ selections from Fig. 2. Figure 1: False-color image of
Saturns south polar clouds taken by the Cassini imaging science subsystem (ISS) in three lters (4). An
image at 889 nm, where methane gas is a strong absorber, is projected onto the blue plane. An image at 727
nm, where methane is a moderate absorber, is projected onto the green plane. An image at 750 nm, where
the gases of Saturns atmosphere are transparent, is projected onto the red plane. The images have been map
projected using polar stereographic projection with planetocentric latitudes. In the original images the sun
was 15

above the horizon at the pole, and attenuation by a factor of e (2.71...) occurs at the 80 mbar and 300
mbar levels for light at 889 nm and 727 nm, respectively. Clouds below 300 mbars appear red, and high thin
clouds appear blue or green (see also modeling results in (3)). The eyewalls can be seen in all three color
planes, and thus extend to 80 mbar. To reduce the effect of varying solar illumination across the image,
each color plane is high-pass ltered at the spatial scale of 300 km, or 0.3

of latitude.

Figure 2: A time sequence showing how the shadows (the dark crescent-shaped areas inside the walls)
follow the Sun. The rst map is taken on October 11 (DOY 284), 2006 at 19 hr 42 min. The maps are
labeled by the time lapsed since the rst map. The white arrow shows the direction of propagation of the
incident sunlight.

Move to SOM. Figure 3: Proles of zonal velocity (eastward) and cyclonic vorticity (clockwise) around
Saturns south pole. The dashed vertical lines indicate the inner and outer eyewalls. (A) Zonal velocity
measured by tracking clouds in a sequence of images over a 3-hour period. The solid curves are for constant
absolute vorticity +f starting at latitude 0 (values labeled on the curves) with u=0and =0at that point.
(B) Relative vorticity . The solid curve is a spline t to the velocity data of Fig. 3A (7). The points are the
puffy red clouds of Fig. 1. To determine the relative vorticity of a puffy red cloud, we track it over the 3-
hour time interval and measure its angular velocity of rotation relative to the rotating planet. Twice this
angular velocity is the vorticity of the cloud. We repeated the procedure three to four times for each cloud
and assigned error bars from the residuals (7).
Omit or move to SOM as it is published data. Figure 4: Zonal mean temperatures in Saturns south polar
region derived from the Cassini composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) spectra (left panels) (10, 11, 19).
The gap between the upper and lower panels arises because the CIRS instrument is not sensitive to the 6-70
mbar region. Temperature anomalies (right panels) are calculated by subtracting the zonal mean
temperatures at -84

latitude. The dashed vertical lines indicate the inner and outer eyewalls.