Articles | Volume 5, issue 4
29 Mar 2005
29 Mar 2005

Modelling the impact of noctilucent cloud formation on atomic oxygen and other minor constituents of the summer mesosphere

B. J. Murray and J. M. C. Plane

Abstract. The formation, evolution and eventual sublimation of noctilucent clouds (NLC) may have a significant effect on the odd oxygen and hydrogen chemistry of the high latitude summer mesosphere. Three mechanisms are considered here: the direct uptake of atomic oxygen on the surface of the ice particles; the redistribution of water vapour, which changes the photochemical source of odd hydrogen species; and the direct photolysis of the ice particles themselves to produce odd hydrogen species in the gas phase. A 1-D photochemical model is employed to investigate the potential importance of these mechanisms. This shows, using the recently measured uptake coefficients of O on ice, that the heterogeneous removal of O on the surface of the cloud particles is too slow by at least a factor of 5x103 to compete with gas-phase O chemistry. The second and third mechanisms involve the solar Lyman-α photolysis of H2O in the gas and solid phase, respectively. During twilight, Lyman-α radiation is severely attenuated and these mechanisms are insignificant. In contrast, when the upper mesosphere is fully illuminated there is a dramatic impact on the O profile, with depletion of O at the base of the cloud layer of close to an order of magnitude. A correspondingly large depletion in O3 is also predicted, while H, OH, HO2 and H2O2 are found to be enhanced by factors of 3-5. In fact, rocket-borne mass spectrometer measurements during summer have revealed local H2O2 enhancements in the region of the clouds. Rocket-borne measurements of atomic O and O3 profiles in the presence of mesospheric clouds in the daytime are highly desirable to test the predictions of this model and our understanding of the genesis of mesospheric clouds.

Final-revised paper