The effect of internal gravity waves on cloud evolution in sub-stellar atmospheres

Amy Parent (Lead / Corresponding author), Ruth E. Falconer, G. K. H. Lee, Karen Meyer, C. R. Stark (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Context. Sub-stellar objects exhibit photometric variability, which is believed to be caused by a number of processes, such as magnetically-driven spots or inhomogeneous cloud coverage. Recent sub-stellar models have shown that turbulent flows and waves, including internal gravity waves, may play an important role in cloud evolution. Aims. The aim of this paper is to investigate the effect of internal gravity waves on dust nucleation and dust growth, and whether observations of the resulting cloud structures could be used to recover atmospheric density information. Methods. For a simplified atmosphere in two dimensions, we numerically solved the governing fluid equations to simulate the effect on dust nucleation and mantle growth as a result of the passage of an internal gravity wave. Furthermore, we derived an expression that relates the properties of the wave-induced cloud structures to observable parameters in order to deduce the atmospheric density. Results. Numerical simulations show that the density, pressure, and temperature variations caused by gravity waves lead to an increase of the dust nucleation rate by up to a factor 20, and an increase of the dust mantle growth rate by up to a factor 1.6, compared to their equilibrium values. Through an exploration of the wider sub-stellar parameter space, we show that in absolute terms, the increase in dust nucleation due to internal gravity waves is stronger in cooler (T dwarfs) and TiO 2-rich sub-stellar atmospheres. The relative increase, however, is greater in warm (L dwarf) and TiO 2-poor atmospheres due to conditions that are less suited for efficient nucleation at equilibrium. These variations lead to banded areas in which dust formation is much more pronounced, similar to the cloud structures observed on Earth. Conclusions. We show that internal gravity waves propagating in the atmosphere of sub-stellar objects can produce banded clouds structures similar to that observed on Earth. We propose a method with which potential observations of banded clouds could be used to estimate the atmospheric density of sub-stellar objects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA159
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Early online date30 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Brown dwarfs
  • Planets and satellites: atmospheres
  • Stars: atmospheres
  • Waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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