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Triton's surface-atmosphere energy balance

January 1, 1992

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.”

Publication Year 1992
Title Triton's surface-atmosphere energy balance
DOI 10.1016/0019-1035(92)90144-V
Authors J.A. Stansberry, R.V. Yelle, J. I. Lunine, A. S. McEwen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Icarus
Index ID 70016972
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse