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The potential impact of changes in lower stratospheric water vapour on stratospheric temperatures over the past 30 years

Maycock, A. C., Joshi, M. M., Shine, K. P., Davis, S. M. and Rosenlof, K. H. (2014) The potential impact of changes in lower stratospheric water vapour on stratospheric temperatures over the past 30 years. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 140 (684). pp. 2176-2185. ISSN 0035-9009

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1002/qj.2287


This study investigates the potential contribution of observed changes in lower stratospheric water vapour to stratospheric temperature variations over the past three decades using a comprehensive global climate model (GCM). Three case studies are considered. In the first, the net increase in stratospheric water vapour (SWV) from 1980–2010 (derived from the Boulder frost-point hygrometer record using the gross assumption that this is globally representative) is estimated to have cooled the lower stratosphere by up to ∼0.2 K decade−1 in the global and annual mean; this is ∼40% of the observed cooling trend over this period. In the Arctic winter stratosphere there is a dynamical response to the increase in SWV, with enhanced polar cooling of 0.6 K decade−1 at 50 hPa and warming of 0.5 K decade−1 at 1 hPa. In the second case study, the observed decrease in tropical lower stratospheric water vapour after the year 2000 (imposed in the GCM as a simplified representation of the observed changes derived from satellite data) is estimated to have caused a relative increase in tropical lower stratospheric temperatures by ∼0.3 K at 50 hPa. In the third case study, the wintertime dehydration in the Antarctic stratospheric polar vortex (again using a simplified representation of the changes seen in a satellite dataset) is estimated to cause a relative warming of the Southern Hemisphere polar stratosphere by up to 1 K at 100 hPa from July–October. This is accompanied by a weakening of the westerly winds on the poleward flank of the stratospheric jet by up to 1.5 m s−1 in the GCM. The results show that, if the measurements are representative of global variations, SWV should be considered as important a driver of transient and long-term variations in lower stratospheric temperature over the past 30 years as increases in long-lived greenhouse gases and stratospheric ozone depletion.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:37248
Uncontrolled Keywords:temperature trends;stratosphere and climate;climate modelling;Antarctic dehydration;tropical stratosphere;polar stratosphere

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