Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
Research article
28 Jan 2011
Research article |  | 28 Jan 2011

Residual circulation trajectories and transit times into the extratropical lowermost stratosphere

T. Birner and H. Bönisch

Abstract. Transport into the extratropical lowermost stratosphere (LMS) can be divided into a slow part (time-scale of several months to years) associated with the global-scale stratospheric residual circulation and a fast part (time-scale of days to a few months) associated with (mostly quasi-horizontal) mixing (i.e. two-way irreversible transport, including extratropical stratosphere-troposphere exchange). The stratospheric residual circulation may be considered to consist of two branches: a deep branch more strongly associated with planetary waves breaking in the middle to upper stratosphere, and a shallow branch associated with synoptic and planetary scale waves breaking in the subtropical lower stratosphere. In this study the contribution due to the stratospheric residual circulation alone to transport into the LMS is quantified using residual circulation trajectories, i.e. trajectories driven by the (time-dependent) residual mean meridional and vertical velocities. This contribution represents the advective part of the overall transport into the LMS and can be viewed as providing a background onto which the effect of mixing has to be added. Residual mean velocities are obtained from a comprehensive chemistry-climate model as well as from reanalysis data. Transit times of air traveling from the tropical tropopause to the LMS along the residual circulation streamfunction are evaluated and compared to recent mean age of air estimates. A time-scale separation with much smaller transit times into the mid-latitudinal LMS than into polar LMS is found that is indicative of a separation of the shallow from the deep branch of the residual circulation. This separation between the shallow and the deep circulation branch is further manifested in a distinction in the aspect ratio of the vertical to meridional extent of the trajectories, the integrated mass flux along the residual circulation trajectories, as well as the stratospheric entry latitude of the trajectories. The residual transit time distribution reproduces qualitatively the observed seasonal cycle of youngest air in the extratropical LMS in fall and oldest air in spring.

Final-revised paper