Articles | Volume 16, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2016

Sensitivity of polar stratospheric cloud formation to changes in water vapour and temperature

F. Khosrawi, J. Urban, S. Lossow, G. Stiller, K. Weigel, P. Braesicke, M. C. Pitts, A. Rozanov, J. P. Burrows, and D. Murtagh

Abstract. More than a decade ago it was suggested that a cooling of stratospheric temperatures by 1 K or an increase of 1 ppmv of stratospheric water vapour could promote denitrification, the permanent removal of nitrogen species from the stratosphere by solid polar stratospheric cloud (PSC) particles. In fact, during the two Arctic winters 2009/10 and 2010/11 the strongest denitrification in the recent decade was observed. Sensitivity studies along air parcel trajectories are performed to test how a future stratospheric water vapour (H2O) increase of 1 ppmv or a temperature decrease of 1 K would affect PSC formation. We perform our study based on measurements made during the Arctic winter 2010/11. Air parcel trajectories were calculated 6 days backward in time based on PSCs detected by CALIPSO (Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder satellite observations). The sensitivity study was performed on single trajectories as well as on a trajectory ensemble. The sensitivity study shows a clear prolongation of the potential for PSC formation and PSC existence when the temperature in the stratosphere is decreased by 1 K and water vapour is increased by 1 ppmv. Based on 15 years of satellite measurements (2000–2014) from UARS/HALOE, Envisat/MIPAS, Odin/SMR, Aura/MLS, Envisat/SCIAMACHY and SCISAT/ACE-FTS it is further investigated if there is a decrease in temperature and/or increase of water vapour (H2O) observed in the polar regions similar to that observed at midlatitudes and in the tropics. Performing linear regression analyses we derive from the Envisat/MIPAS (2002–2012) and Aura/MLS (2004–2014) observations predominantly positive changes in the potential temperature range 350 to 1000 K. The linear changes in water vapour derived from Envisat/MIPAS observations are largely insignificant, while those from Aura/MLS are mostly significant. For the temperature neither of the two instruments indicate any significant changes. Given the strong inter-annual variation observed in water vapour and particular temperature the severe denitrification observed in 2010/11 cannot be directly related to any changes in water vapour and temperature since the millennium. However, the observations indicate a clear correlation between cold winters and enhanced water vapour mixing ratios. This indicates a connection between dynamical and radiative processes that govern water vapour and temperature in the Arctic lower stratosphere.

Short summary
Our sensitivity studies based on air parcel trajectories confirm that Polar stratospheric cloud (PSC) formation is quite sensitive to water vapour and temperature changes. Considering water vapour time series from satellite measurements we do not find a consistent, significant trend in water vapour in the lower stratosphere during the past 15 years (2000–2014). Thus, the severe dentrification observed in 2010/2011 cannot be directly related to increases in stratospheric water vapour.
Final-revised paper