EPIC simulations of Neptune's dark spots using an active cloud microphysical model

Nathan Hadland, Ramanakumar Sankar, Raymond Paul LeBeau, Csaba Palotai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Great Dark Spot (GDS-89) observed by Voyager 2 was the first of several large-scale vortices observed on Neptune, the most recent of which was observed in 2018 in the Northern hemisphere (NDS-2018). Ongoing observations of these features are constraining cloud formation, drift, shape oscillations, and other dynamic properties. In order to effectively model these characteristics, an explicit calculation of methane cloud microphysics is needed. Using an updated version of the Explicit Planetary Isentropic Coordinate General Circulation Model (EPIC GCM) and its active cloud microphysics module to account for the condensation of methane, we investigate the evolution of large-scale vortices on Neptune. We model the effect of methane deep abundance and cloud formation on vortex stability and dynamics. In our simulations, the vortex shows a sharp contrast in methane vapour density inside compared to outside the vortex. Methane vapour column density is analogous to optical depth and provides a more consistent tracer to track the vortex, so we use that variable over potential vorticity. We match the meridional drift rate of the GDS and gain an initial insight into the evolution of vortices in the Northern hemisphere, such as the NDS-2018.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4760-4768
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by the NASA Solar System Workings Program grant NNX16A203G and the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Science Hartmann Student Travel Grant Program. NH thanks the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation for their support. We also thank Noah Nodolski for his help and the anonymous reviewer for their input.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Hydrodynamics
  • Methods: numerical
  • Planets and satellites: individual: atmospheres
  • Planets and satellites: individual: Neptune


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