An Introduction to Planetary Atmospheres: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

An Introduction to Planetary Atmospheres

1st Edition

By Agustin Sanchez-Lavega

CRC Press

629 pages | 241 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2010-09-07
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Planetary atmospheres is a relatively new, interdisciplinary subject that incorporates various areas of the physical and chemical sciences, including geophysics, geophysical fluid dynamics, atmospheric science, astronomy, and astrophysics. Providing a much-needed resource for this cross-disciplinary field, An Introduction to Planetary Atmospheres presents current knowledge on atmospheres and the fundamental mechanisms operating on them. The author treats the topics in a comparative manner among the different solar system bodies—what is known as comparative planetology.

Based on an established course, this comprehensive text covers a panorama of solar system bodies and their relevant general properties. It explores the origin and evolution of atmospheres, along with their chemical composition and thermal structure. It also describes cloud formation and properties, mechanisms in thin and upper atmospheres, and meteorology and dynamics. Each chapter focuses on these atmospheric topics in the way classically done for the Earth’s atmosphere and summarizes the most important aspects in the field.

The study of planetary atmospheres is fundamental to understanding the origin of the solar system, the formation mechanisms of planets and satellites, and the day-to-day behavior and evolution of Earth’s atmosphere. With many interesting real-world examples, this book offers a unified vision of the chemical and physical processes occurring in planetary atmospheres. Ancillaries are available at


An Introduction to Planetary Atmospheres is an excellently written introductory book that presents the state of the art of planetary atmospheric science. … a very interesting and valuable book. In my opinion this book will be useful not only for researchers working in the field, but also for the Earth sciences community who possess a relatively high level of mathematical skills and some knowledge of physics.

—Andrzej Icha, Pure and Applied Geophysics, 2012

There are relatively few good basic textbooks on the physics of planetary atmospheres and a new volume, especially one as good as this, is a welcome addition. … it is likely to be useful to researchers well beyond the level normally taught in undergraduate courses. At the same time, the various subtopics are introduced carefully, clearly and comprehensively, so beginners are not likely to get left behind … Everything is well written … and the figures are plentiful and clear. A particularly strong feature is the problem section that appears at the end of each chapter, with a large number of well thought out questions at university degree level.

—F.W. Taylor, Contemporary Physics, 52, 2011

This comprehensive textbook on planetary atmospheres is versatile and well organized, with an exposition that is sensitive to different audiences and equally at ease explaining the chemical, dynamical, and empirical foundations of this multidisciplinary field. It is an invaluable reference for any student of atmospheres.

—Timothy E. Dowling, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA

For those who teach courses in planetary atmospheres, an outstanding problem has been the lack of an up-to-date, comprehensive textbook. Agustin Sanchez-Lavega has admirably filled that gap with an impressive new book that brings over two decades’ worth of experience to the subject. Finally, instructors and students have a book with in-depth coverage of a wide range of topics, from atmospheric radiation to clouds and dynamics on all the relevant planets of the solar system. The book’s wide scope expertly uses what’s currently known about different planetary atmospheres to demonstrate the underlying physical processes in a comparative way.

Several chapters have the style of two halves, where the first part introduces the fundamental concepts while the second portion presents the application of such ideas to the data gleaned from our exploration of the solar system. At the end of each chapter, there are excellent problem sets, which are both instructive and thoughtful. Particularly impressive are dozens of detailed tables with data that encompass a multitude of dynamical, radiative, and thermodynamic properties of planetary atmospheres. Consequently, this book will serve as a valuable resource for graduate students in planetary science, astronomy, and atmospheric sciences. Upper-level undergraduates enrolled in planetary science degrees will also surely be glad of the availability of a textbook that synthesizes our knowledge of planetary atmospheres. Alongside its pedagogical value, this book provides an excellent summary of recent research in planetary atmospheres and so will be an extremely useful reference for planetary science professionals.

—David Catling, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Table of Contents

Introduction to Planets and Planetary Systems

Planetary Systems

Orbital Motion

Gravitational Field and the Shape of Planets and Major Satellites

Primary Energy Sources on Planets

Internal Structure of Planets and Satellites

The Magnetic Field


Origin and Evolution of Planetary Atmospheres

Origin of the Solar System

Thermal Evolution of the Planets

Origin of Planetary Atmospheres

Atmospheric Evolution Processes

Variability of the Earth’s Atmosphere

Observed Atmospheric Changes in Other Planets

Spectroscopy and Composition

Atmospheric Composition: Fundamentals

Planetary Spectrum: The Continuum

Atomic Spectrum

Molecular Spectrum

Atmospheric Composition Definitions

Vertical Temperature Structure

Vertical Structure of the Atmospheres

Radiative Transfer

Radiative Equilibrium in Atmospheres

Thermal Tides: Temperature Oscillations

Adiabatic Lapse Rate


Clouds in Planets

Chemistry and Surface Processes

Clouds Properties


Radiative Transfer in Clouds

Observed Cloud Properties: Overview

Upper and Tenuous Atmospheres

Upper Atmospheres: Introduction


Photoionization: Ionospheres

Upper Atmospheres Heating Balance

Diffusion Processes

Airglow and Aurora

Gas Production Mechanisms in Tenuous Atmospheres

Overview of the Tenuous Atmospheres

Global Atmospheric Motions

Equations of Atmospheric Motions

Momentum Equation: Balances


The Planetary Boundary Layer and Turbulent Motions

Observed Large-Scale Motions in the Planets

The General Circulation of Planetary Atmospheres

Atmospheric Dynamics-I: Waves

Wave Characteristics

Acoustic Waves

Gravity Waves

Rossby Waves

Planetary-Scale Equatorial Waves

Thermal Tides: Dynamics

QBO-QQO and SAO Oscillations

Atmospheric Dynamics-II: Instability

Scales of Motion and Dimensionless Numbers

Vertical Instability: Convective Motions

Hydrodynamical Instability: Vortices

Types of Hydrodynamical Instabilities

Vortices in the Giant Planets

Other Dynamical Phenomena

Polar Dynamics

Atmospheric Effects of the Impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter

The July 19th 2009 Impact

Appendix: Methods to Study Planetary Atmospheres




Problems appear at the end of each chapter.

About the Author/Editor

Agustín Sánchez-Lavega is a professor of physics, head of the Department of Applied Physics I, and head of the Planetary Sciences Group at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in Bilbao, Spain. Between 2004 and 2006, he was a member of the Solar System Working Group of the European Space Agency. Dr. Sánchez-Lavega has authored more than 150 papers on the subject in refereed journals.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Astrophysics & Space Science
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / General
SCIENCE / Geophysics
SCIENCE / Physics