Articles | Volume 17, issue 24
Research article
14 Dec 2017
Research article |  | 14 Dec 2017

Mountain waves modulate the water vapor distribution in the UTLS

Romy Heller, Christiane Voigt, Stuart Beaton, Andreas Dörnbrack, Andreas Giez, Stefan Kaufmann, Christian Mallaun, Hans Schlager, Johannes Wagner, Kate Young, and Markus Rapp

Abstract. The water vapor distribution in the upper troposphere–lower stratosphere (UTLS) region has a strong impact on the atmospheric radiation budget. Transport and mixing processes on different scales mainly determine the water vapor concentration in the UTLS. Here, we investigate the effect of mountain waves on the vertical transport and mixing of water vapor. For this purpose we analyze measurements of water vapor and meteorological parameters recorded by the DLR Falcon and NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V research aircraft taken during the Deep Propagating Gravity Wave Experiment (DEEPWAVE) in New Zealand. By combining different methods, we develop a new approach to quantify location, direction and irreversibility of the water vapor transport during a strong mountain wave event on 4 July 2014. A large positive vertical water vapor flux is detected above the Southern Alps extending from the troposphere to the stratosphere in the altitude range between 7.7 and 13.0 km. Wavelet analysis for the 8.9 km altitude level shows that the enhanced upward water vapor transport above the mountains is caused by mountain waves with horizontal wavelengths between 22 and 60 km. A downward transport of water vapor with 22 km wavelength is observed in the lee-side of the mountain ridge. While it is a priori not clear whether the observed fluxes are irreversible, low Richardson numbers derived from dropsonde data indicate enhanced turbulence in the tropopause region related to the mountain wave event. Together with the analysis of the water vapor to ozone correlation, we find indications for vertical transport followed by irreversible mixing of water vapor.

For our case study, we further estimate greater than 1 W m−2 radiative forcing by the increased water vapor concentrations in the UTLS above the Southern Alps of New Zealand, resulting from mountain waves relative to unperturbed conditions. Hence, mountain waves have a great potential to affect the water vapor distribution in the UTLS. Our regional study may motivate further investigations of the global effects of mountain waves on the UTLS water vapor distributions and its radiative effects.

Final-revised paper