Seasonal stratospheric photochemistry on Uranus and Neptune

A time-variable 1D photochemical model is used to study the distribution of stratospheric hydrocarbons as a function of altitude, latitude, and season on Uranus and Neptune. The results for Neptune indicate that in the absence of stratospheric circulation or other meridional transport processes, the hydrocarbon abundances exhibit strong seasonal and meridional variations in the upper stratosphere, but that these variations become increasingly damped with depth due to increasing dynamical and chemical time scales. At high altitudes, hydrocarbon mixing ratios are typically largest where the solar insolation is the greatest, leading to strong hemispheric dichotomies between the summer-to-fall hemisphere and winter-to-spring hemisphere. At mbar pressures and deeper, slower chemistry and diffusion lead to latitude variations that become more symmetric about the equator. On Uranus, the stagnant, poorly mixed stratosphere confines methane and its photochemical products to higher pressures, where chemistry and diffusion time scales remain large. Seasonal variations in hydrocarbons are therefore predicted to be more muted on Uranus, despite the planet's very large obliquity. Radiative-transfer simulations demonstrate that latitude variations in hydrocarbons on both planets are potentially observable with future JWST mid-infrared spectral imaging. Our seasonal model predictions for Neptune compare well with retrieved C 2 H 2 and C 2 H 6 abundances from spatially resolved ground-based observations (no such observations currently exist for Uranus), suggesting that stratospheric circulation — which was not included in these models — may have little influence on the large-scale meridional hydrocarbon distributions on Neptune, unlike the situation on Jupiter and Saturn.