The diversity of characteristics for the host of recently discovered exoplanets opens up a great deal of fertile new territory for geophysical fluid dynamics, particularly when the fluid flow is coupled to novel thermodynamics, radiative transfer or chemistry. In this paper, we survey one of these new areas—the climate dynamics of atmospheres with a non-dilute condensible component, defined as the situation in which a condensible component of the atmosphere makes up a substantial fraction of the atmospheric mass within some layer. Non-dilute dynamics can occur for a wide range of condensibles, generically applying near both the inner and the outer edges of the conventional habitable zone and in connection with runaway greenhouse phenomena. It also applies in a wide variety of other planetary circumstances. We first present a number of analytical results developing some key features of non-dilute atmospheres, and then show how some of these features are manifest in simulations with a general circulation model adapted to handle non-dilute atmospheres. We find that non-dilute atmospheres have weak horizontal temperature gradients even for rapidly rotating planets, and that their circulations are largely barotropic. The relative humidity of the condensible component tends towards 100% as the atmosphere becomes more non-dilute, which has important implications for runaway greenhouse thresholds. Non-dilute atmospheres exhibit a number of interesting organized convection features, for which there is not yet any adequate theoretical understanding.
A contribution to the special feature ‘Perspectives in astrophysical and geophysical Fluids’.
- Received February 12, 2016.
- Accepted May 11, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.