The application of new methane line absorption data to Gemini-N/NIFS and KPNO/FTS observations of Uranus' near-infrared spectrum

P. G. J. Irwin, C. de Bergh, R. Courtin, B. Bezard, N. A. Teanby, G. R. Davis, L. N. Fletcher, G. S. Orton, S. B. Calcutt, D. Tice, J. Hurley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


New line data describing the absorption of CH4 and CH3D from 1.26 to 1.71 mu m (Campargue, A., Wang, L. Mondelain, D., Kassi, S., Bezard, B., Lellouch, E., Coustenis, A., de Bergh, C., Hirtzig, M., Drossart, P. [2012]. Icarus 219, 110-128), building upon previous papers by Campargue et al. (Campargue, A., Wang, L, Kassi, S., Masat, M., Votava, O. [2010]. J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transfer 111, 1141-1151; Wang, L, Kassi, S., Campargue, A. [2010]. J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transfer 111, 1130-1140; Wang, L., Kassi, S., Liu, A.W., Hu, S.M., Campargue, A. [2011]. J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transfer 112, 937-951)) have been applied to the analysis of Gemini-N/NIFS observations of Uranus made in 2010 and compared with earlier disc-averaged observations made by KPNO/FTS in 1982. The new line data are found to improve greatly the fit to the observed spectra and present a huge advance over previous methane absorption tables by allowing us to determine the CH3D/CH4 ratio and also start to break the degeneracy between methane abundance and cloud top height. The best fits are obtained if the cloud particles in the main cloud deck at the 2-3 bar level become less scattering with wavelength across the 1.4-1.6 mu m region and we have modelled this variation here by varying the extinction cross-section and single-scattering albedo of the particles.

Applying the new line data to the NIFS spectra of Uranus, we determine a new estimate of the CH3D/CH4 ratio of 2.9(-0.5)(+0.9) x 10(-4), which is consistent with the estimate of de Bergh etal. (de Bergh, C., Lutz, B.L., Owen, T., Brault, J., Chauville, J. [1986]. Astrophys. J. 311, 501-510) of 3.6(-2.8)(+3.6) x 10(-4), made by fitting a disc-averaged KPNO/FTS spectrum measured in 1982, but much better constrained. The NIFS observations made in 2010 have been disc-averaged and compared with the 1982 KPNO/FTS spectrum and found to be in excellent agreement.

Using k-tables fitted to the new line data, the central meridian observations of Uranus' H-band spectrum (1.49-1.64 mu m) made by Gemini-N/NIFS in 2010 have been reanalyzed. The use of the new methane absorption coefficients and the modified scattering properties of the cloud particles in the main cloud deck appears to break the degeneracy between cloud height and methane abundance immediately above it in this spectral region and we find that both vary with latitude across Uranus' disc. Overall, we find that the main cloud deck becomes higher, but thinner from equator to poles, with a local maximum in cloud top height in the circumpolar zones at 45 degrees N and 45 degrees S. At the same time, using the 'D' temperature pressure profile of Lindal et al. (Lindal, G.F., Lyons, J.R., Sweetnam, D.N., Eshleman, V.R., Hinson, D.P. [1987]. J. Geophys. Res. 92, 14987-15001) and a deep methane abundance of 1.6% (Baines, K.H., Mickelson, ME., Larson, LE., Ferguson, D.W. [1995]. Icarus 144, 328-340) we find that the relative humidity of methane is high near the equator (similar to 60%) and decreases sharply towards the poles, except near the circumpolar zone at 45 degrees N, which has brightened steadily since 2007, and where there is a local maximum in methane relative humidity. In tests conducted with the warmer 'F1' profile of Sromovsky et al. (2011) we find a similar variation of methane abundance above the main cloud, although for this warmer temperature profile this abundance is dependent mostly on the fitted deep methane mole fraction. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-382
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


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