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

Changing transport processes in the stratosphere by radiative heating of sulfate aerosols

Ulrike Niemeier and Hauke Schmidt

Abstract. The injection of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere to form an artificial stratospheric aerosol layer is discussed as an option for solar radiation management. Sulfate aerosol scatters solar radiation and absorbs infrared radiation, which warms the stratospheric sulfur layer. Simulations with the general circulation model ECHAM5-HAM, including aerosol microphysics, show consequences of this warming, including changes of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) in the tropics. The QBO slows down after an injection of 4 Tg(S) yr−1 and completely shuts down after an injection of 8 Tg(S) yr−1. Transport of species in the tropics and sub-tropics depends on the phase of the QBO. Consequently, the heated aerosol layer not only impacts the oscillation of the QBO but also the meridional transport of the sulfate aerosols. The stronger the injection, the stronger the heating and the simulated impact on the QBO and equatorial wind systems. With increasing injection rate the velocity of the equatorial jet streams increases, and the less sulfate is transported out of the tropics. This reduces the global distribution of sulfate and decreases the radiative forcing efficiency of the aerosol layer by 10 to 14 % compared to simulations with low vertical resolution and without generated QBO. Increasing the height of the injection increases the radiative forcing only for injection rates below 10 Tg(S) yr−1 (8–18 %), a much smaller value than the 50 % calculated previously. Stronger injection rates at higher levels even result in smaller forcing than the injections at lower levels.

Short summary
An artificial stratospheric sulfur layer heats the lower stratosphere which impacts stratospheric dynamics and transport. The quasi-biennial oscillation shuts down due to the heated sulfur layer which impacts the meridional transport of the sulfate aerosols. The tropical confinement of the sulfate is stronger and the radiative forcing efficiency of the aerosol layer decreases compared to previous studies, as does the forcing when increasing the injection height.
Final-revised paper