Unlike meteorology, which studies precise instants of atmospheric phenomena, climatology studies the average occurrence of these cases over a long period of time. Climatology of the Earth has a very practical application; it enables us to examine weather variations as a result of physical processes and human impact, and how such changes alter our environment. Studying the climate of other planets in our solar system provides us with an analogous understanding of their own unique environments.
The balance between absorbed solar radiation (heating) and emitted planetary radiation (cooling) provides the global temperature. Temperature fluctuations result from seasons (the axial tilt of the planet), clouds layers, dust particles, molecular absorption, emission, and scattering, atmospheric chemistry, and molecular abundances, among others.
Gas giant planets are less understood then nearby terrestrial planets largely due to their distance from the Earth. Applying climatology to such planets allows us to deduce the physical nature of their atmospheres deep within their opaque, gaseous shell. The Cassini-Huygens mission in 2004 is providing a new wealth of data for Saturn and its moons. However, a thorough model of the radiative processes in Saturn’s atmosphere is required in order to make the most of these new observations. With a tilt of ~27o, Saturn has seasons similar to Earth’s. Previous models have not only neglected molecular abundance variations, but they also model molecular processes on course grids, which mask intrinsic physical processes. Dr. Thomas Greathouse (LPI), Dr. Julianne Moses (LPI), and I are constructing a complete radiative seasonal climate model of Saturn, including the crucial factors amiss in past models.
The future potential of our seasonal model is expansive. From Saturn, we could apply it to other gas giants in our solar system, and ultimately to extra-solar planets and star forming disks, providing a tool with which to better understand planetary and stellar formation as a whole.
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