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Atmospheric mountain wave generation on Venus and its influence on the solid planet’s rotation rate

An Author Correction to this article was published on 15 October 2018

This article has been updated


The Akatsuki spacecraft observed a 10,000-km-long meridional structure at the top of the cloud deck of Venus that appeared stationary with respect to the surface and was interpreted as a gravity wave. Additionally, over four Venus solar days of observations, other such waves were observed to appear in the afternoon over equatorial highland regions. This indicates a direct influence of the solid planet on the whole Venusian atmosphere despite dissimilar rotation rates of 243 and 4 days, respectively. How such gravity waves might be generated on Venus is not understood. Here, we use general circulation model simulations of the Venusian atmosphere to show that the observations are consistent with stationary gravity waves over topographic highs—or mountain waves—that are generated in the afternoon in equatorial regions by the diurnal cycle of near-surface atmospheric stability. We find that these mountain waves substantially contribute to the total atmospheric torque that acts on the planet’s surface. We estimate that mountain waves, along with the thermal tide and baroclinic waves, can produce a change in the rotation rate of the solid body of about 2 minutes per solar day. This interplay between the solid planet and atmosphere may explain some of the difference in rotation rates (equivalent to a change in the length of day of about 7 minutes) measured by spacecraft over the past 40 years.

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Fig. 1: Planetary-scale gravity waves simulated with a GCM.
Fig. 2: Surface conditions.
Fig. 3: Atmospheric torques on the surface and length of day.

Change history

  • 15 October 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, a statement regarding past measurements of the length of day and rotation rate of Venus was potentially misleading. The original statement has now been replaced in the online versions of this Article, to acknowledge that neither Magellan nor Venus Express measured an instantaneous rotation rate.


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We thank NASA for its financial support (grant NNX16AC84G) and the Akatsuki team for its discussions.

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T.N. performed the simulations, model development and scientific interpretation; G.S. contributed to the scientific interpretation, and S.L. to the model development and simulations.

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Correspondence to T. Navarro.

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Navarro, T., Schubert, G. & Lebonnois, S. Atmospheric mountain wave generation on Venus and its influence on the solid planet’s rotation rate. Nature Geosci 11, 487–491 (2018).

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