Mesospheric N2O enhancements as observed by MIPAS on Envisat during the polar winters in 2002–2004
Abstract. N2O abundances ranging from 0.5 to 6 ppbv were observed in the polar upper stratosphere/lower mesosphere by the MIPAS instrument on the Envisat satellite during the Arctic and Antarctic winters in the period July 2002 to March 2004. A detailed study of the observed N2O-CH4 correlations shows that such enhancements cannot be explained by dynamics without invoking an upper atmospheric chemical source of N2O. The N2O enhancements observed at 58 km occurred in the presence of NOx intrusions from the upper atmosphere which were related to energetic particle precipitation. Further, the inter-annual variability of mesospheric N2O correlates well with observed precipitating electron fluxes. The analysis of possible chemical production mechanisms shows that the major part of the observed N2O enhancements is most likely generated under dark conditions by the reaction of NO2 with atomic nitrogen at altitudes around 70–75 km in the presence of energetic particle precipitation (EPP). A possible additional source of N2O in the middle and upper polar atmosphere is the reaction of N2(A3Σu+), generated by precipitating electrons, with O2, which would lead to N2O production peaking at altitudes around 90–100 km. N2O produced by the latter mechanism could then descend to the mesosphere and upper stratosphere during polar winter. The estimated fraction of EPP-generated N2O to the total stratospheric N2O inside the polar vortex above 20 km (30 km) never exceeds 1% (10%) during the 2002–2004 winters. Compared to the global amount of stratospheric N2O, the EPP-generated contribution is negligible.