Age of air and the circulation of the stratosphere
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The circulation of air in the stratosphere is important for the distribution of radiatively important trace gases, such as ozone and water vapor, and other chemical species, including ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. Age of air in the stratosphere is an idealized tracer with unique mathematical properties, which we exploit to derive a theory for the relationship of tracer observations to the stratospheric circulation. We show that the meridional age gradient is a measure of the global diabatic circulation, the total overturning strength through an isentropic surface, and test this time-dependent theory in a simple atmospheric general circulation model. We apply the theory to satellite data of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrous oxide to derive the first observationally-based estimates of the global meridional overturning circulation strength at all levels in the stratosphere. These two independent global satellite data products agree to within 5% on the strength of the diabatic circulation in the lower stratosphere. We compare to reanalyses and find broad agreement in the lower stratosphere and disagreement (∼ 100%) in the upper stratosphere. To understand the relationship between the diabatic circulation and other metrics of the circulation, we calculate it in a state-of-the-science atmospheric model and in three different reanalysis data products. The variability of the global diabatic circulation is very similar to one typical circulation metric, and it is correlated with total column ozone in the tropics and in Southern hemisphere midlatitudes in both a model and in reanalysis–data comparisons. Furthermore, we develop a metric for the mean adiabatic mixing, showing that it is related to the meridional age difference and the vertical gradient of age. We calculate this metric for a range of simple model runs to determine its utility as a measure of mixing. We find very little mixing of air into the tropics in the mid-stratosphere, and the vertical structure of mixing in the lower stratosphere and upper stratosphere varies among model runs and between hemispheres. A picture of global average stratospheric circulation could thus be obtained using age of air data, given reliable long-term records.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution September 2017
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