Observed decadal variations of the zonal mean hygropause and its relationship to changes in the transport barrier
Roell, Marilee May
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This study examines the long-term record of lower stratospheric water vapor focusing on the 20-year data record from the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment II (SAGE II). The SAGE II zonal monthly mean water vapor data was enhanced to include the aerosol heavy late 1980s through the use of aerosol extinction filtering of the data. Comparisons between the SAGE II lower stratospheric water vapor and the Limb Infrared Monitor of the Stratosphere (LIMS), the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS), and HALogen Occultation Experiment (HALOE) are performed. This study further focuses on the minimum lower stratospheric water vapor (i.e., hygropause) and on the dehydration seen in the hygropause with examination of the transport barrier at both the tropical tropopause and the tropopause folding region between the tropics and extra-tropics that would account for this decadal variation. The effects of aerosol contamination on the SAGE II water vapor retrievals from four volcanic eruptions from 1984 to 1992 were examined, leading to a four level filtering of the SAGE II water vapor data to allow retention of good data from early in the data record. With the improved filtered water vapor data, monthly and seasonal time series analyses show a significant decadal variation in the lower stratosphere for all months where the satellite coverage provided data from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. This decadal variation documents a decrease in the water vapor from below approximately 25 km to below the tropopause with this decrease seen in the hygropause from the tropics to the poles. Analysis of the hygropause for all months provided a statistically significant consistent neutral or decreasing value in the long-term water vapor minimum. March was shown to be the seasonal minimum in the hygropause over this 20-year low aerosol record, followed by a discontinuity in the minimum abundance after 2000. Three transport pathways for transport of water vapor from the moist troposphere to the lower stratosphere include the tropical tropopause, isentropic transport at the sub-tropical jet locations, and meridional transport from the tropics to the midlatitudes above the hygropause. The tropical tropopause temperatures were examined using the new Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) data set. Analysis showed a significant decrease in the tropical and sub-tropical tropopause temperatures over the 20-year timeframe for the DJF season preceding the March minimum. The lower temperatures would provide a colder "cold trap" at the tropopause, further "freeze drying" the air seasonally transported from the upper troposphere to the lower stratosphere, providing the long-term dehydration in the hygropause and lower stratosphere. The Ertel's Potential Vorticity (EPV or PV) was examined as a proxy for the sub-tropical jet movement towards the poles over this long-term record. Changes in this pathway location may affect the efficiency of isentropic transport of moist tropospheric air into the lower stratosphere at these higher latitudes. Analysis using the MERRA zonal EPV and maximum zonal Uwind data showed a statistically significant shift in the locations of the contours towards the SH poles over this 20-year timeframe for the DJF, DJFM seasons and the month of December. The meridional winds above the tropopause show an increase over the 20-year record covered by SAGE II water vapor data. These increasing winds are consistent with the increase in the Brewer-Dobson circulation shown in other studies. The colder tropopause temperatures along with the increasing Brewer-Dobson circulation just above the tropopause, are the likely cause for the decreasing water vapor trend as seen in the SAGE II March hygropause over the 20-years from 1986-2005.