Jupiter's Great Red Spot and zonal winds as a self-consistent, one-layer, quasigeostrophic flow

Philip S. Marcus, Changhoon Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


We present the point of view that both the vortices and the east-west zonal winds of Jupiter are confined to the planet's shallow weather layer and that their dynamics is completely described by the weakly dissipated, weakly forced quasigeostrophic (QG) equation. The weather layer is the region just below the tropopause and contains the visible clouds. The forcing mimics the overshoot of fluid from an underlying convection zone. The late-time solutions of the weakly forced and dissipated QG equations appear to be a small subset of the unforced and undissipated equations and are robust attractors. We illustrate QG vortex dynamics and attempt to explain the important features of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and other vortices: their shapes, locations with respect to the extrema of the east-west winds, stagnation points, numbers as a function of latitude, mergers, break-ups, cloud morphologies, internal distributions of vorticity, and signs of rotation with respect to both the planet's rotation and the shear of their surrounding east-west winds. Initial-value calculations in which the weather layer starts at rest produce oscillatory east-west winds. Like the Jovian winds, the winds are east-west asymmetric and have Kármán vortex streets located only at the west-going jets. From numerical calculations we present an empirically derived energy criterion that determines whether QG vortices survive in oscillatory zonal flows with nonzero potential vorticity gradients. We show that a recent proof that claims that all QG vortices decay when embedded in oscillatory zonal flows1 is too restrictive in its assumptions. We show that the asymmetries in the cloud morphologies and numbers of cyclones and anticyclones can be accounted for by a QG model of the Jovian atmosphere, and we compare the QG model with competing models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-286
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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