Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2021-440
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2021-440

  29 Jun 2021

29 Jun 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Investigation and amelioration of long-term instrumental drifts in water vapor and nitrous oxide measurements from the Aura Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) and their implications for studies of variability and trends

Nathaniel J. Livesey1, William G. Read1, Lucien Froidevaux1, Alyn Lambert1, Michelle L. Santee1, Michael J. Schwartz1, Luis F. Millán1, Robert F. Jarnot1, Paul A. Wagner1, Dale F. Hurst2, Kaley A. Walker3, Patrick E. Sheese3, and Gerald E. Nedoluha4 Nathaniel J. Livesey et al.
  • 1Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA
  • 2Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA, and NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 3University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 4Remote Sensing Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, USA

Abstract. The Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS), launched on NASA's Aura spacecraft in 2004, measures vertical profiles of the abundances of key atmospheric species from the upper troposphere to the mesosphere with daily near-global coverage. We review the first 15 years of the record of H2O and N2O measurements from the MLS 190-GHz subsystem (along with other 190-GHz information), with a focus on their long-term stability, largely based on comparisons with measurements from other sensors. These comparisons generally show signs of an increasing drift in the MLS version 4 (v4) H2O record starting around 2010. Specifically, comparisons with v4.1 measurements from the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment-Fourier Transform Spectrometer (ACE-FTS) indicate a ~2–3 %/decade drift over much of the stratosphere, increasing to as much as ~7 %/decade around 46 hPa. Larger drifts, of around 7–11 %/decade, are seen in comparisons to balloon-borne frost point hygrometer measurements in the lower stratosphere. In contrast, the MLS v4 N2O product is shown to be generally decreasing over the same period (when an increase in stratospheric N2O is expected, reflecting a secular growth in emissions), with a more pronounced drift in the lower stratosphere than that found for H2O. Detailed investigations of the behavior of the MLS 190-GHz subsystem reveal a drift in its sideband fraction (the relative sensitivity of the 190-GHz receiver to the two different parts of the microwave spectrum it observes). Our studies indicate that sideband fraction drift accounts for much of the observed changes in the MLS H2O product and some portion of the changes seen in N2O. The 190-GHz sideband fraction drift has been corrected in the new version 5 MLS algorithms, which have now been used to reprocess the entire MLS record. As a result of this correction, the MLS v5 H2O record shows no statistically significant drifts compared to ACE-FTS. However, statistically significant drifts remain between MLS v5 and frost point measurements, though they are reduced. Drifts in v5 N2O are about half the size of those in v4 but remain statistically significant. Scientists are advised to use MLS v5 data in all future studies. Quantification of inter-regional and seasonal-to-annual changes in MLS H2O and N2O will not be affected by the drift. However, caution is advised in studies using the MLS record to examine long-term (multi-year) variability and trends in either of these species, especially N2O; such studies should only be undertaken in consultation with the MLS team. Importantly, this drift does not affect any of the MLS observations made in other spectral regions such as O3, HCl, CO, ClO, or temperature.

Nathaniel J. Livesey et al.

Status: open (until 10 Aug 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on acp-2021-440', Quentin Errera, 22 Jul 2021 reply
    • CC2: 'Reply on CC1', Quentin Errera, 22 Jul 2021 reply
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2021-440', Anonymous Referee #1, 26 Jul 2021 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2021-440', Anonymous Referee #2, 26 Jul 2021 reply

Nathaniel J. Livesey et al.

Nathaniel J. Livesey et al.

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Short summary
The Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS), an instrument on NASA's Aura mission launched in 2004, measures vertical profiles of the temperature and composition of Earth's middle atmosphere (the region from ~12 to ~100 km altitude). We describe how, among the 16 trace gases measured by MLS, the measurements of water vapor (N2O) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have started to drift since ~2010. The paper also discusses the origins of this drift and work to ameliorate it in a new version of the MLS dataset.
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