Gravity and Zonal Flows of Giant Planets: From the Euler Equation to the Thermal Wind Equation
Cao et al
Any non-spherical distribution of density inside planets and stars gives rise to a non-spherical external gravity and change of shape. If part or all of the observed zonal flows at the cloud deck of giant planets represent deep interior dynamics, then the density perturbations associated with the deep zonal flows could generate gravitational signals detectable by the planned Juno mission and the Cassini Proximal Orbits. It is currently debated whether the thermal wind equation (TWE) can be used to calculate the gravity field associated with deep zonal flows. Here we present a critical comparison between the Euler equation and the thermal wind equation. Our analysis shows that the applicability of the TWE in calculating the gravity moments depends crucially on retaining the non-sphericity of the background density and gravity. Only when the background non-sphericity of the planet is taken into account, the TWE makes accurate enough prediction (with a few tens of percent errors) for the high-degree gravity moments associated with deep zonal flows. Since the TWE is derived from the curl of the Euler equation and is a local relation, it necessarily says nothing about any density perturbations that contribute irrotational terms to the Euler equation and that has a non-local origin. However, the predicted corrections from these density contributions to the low harmonic degree gravity moments are not discernible from insignificant changes in interior models while the corrections at high harmonic degree are very small, tens of percent or less.