Articles | Volume 4, issue 11/12
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 4, 2449–2464, 2004
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 4, 2449–2464, 2004

  08 Dec 2004

08 Dec 2004

Noctilucent clouds and the mesospheric water vapour: the past decade

U. von Zahn1, G. Baumgarten1, U. Berger1, J. Fiedler1, and P. Hartogh2 U. von Zahn et al.
  • 1Leibniz-Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Kühlungsborn, Germany
  • 2Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

Abstract. The topic of this paper is the sensitivity of the brightness of noctilucent clouds (NLC) on the ambient water vapour mixing ratio f(H2O). Firstly, we use state-of-the-art models of NLC layer formation to predict NLC brightness changes in response to changes in the 80km mixing ratio f(H2O) for the two cases of ground-based 532nm lidar observations at 69° N and for hemispheric satellite SBUV observations at 252nm wavelength. In this study, we include a re-evaluation of the sensitivity of NLC brightness to changes in solar Lyman α flux. Secondly, we review observations of episodic changes in f(H2O) and those in NLC brightness, the former being available since 1992, the latter since 1979. To this review, we add a new series of observations of f(H2O), performed in the Arctic summer at the ALOMAR observatory. The episodic change exhibited by the Arctic summer means of f(H2O) turns out to be quite different from all those derived from annual means of f(H2O). The latter indicate that since 1996 a significant reduction of annually averaged upper mesospheric water vapour has occurred at low, mid, and high latitudes. These decreases of f(H2O) have been observed over the same time period in which a slow increase of SBUV NLC albedo has occurred. From this scenario and additional arguments we conclude that the cause for the observed long-term increase in NLC albedo remains to be identified. We close with comments on the very different character of decadal variations in NLC brightness and occurrence rate.

Final-revised paper