ARL News

Paper Reviews Stratospheric Temperature Trends – Joint with GFDL


September 10, 2001

Trends and variations in global stratospheric temperatures are an integral part of the changes occurring in the Earth’s climate system. Datasets for analyzing long-term (a decade and more) changes in the stratospheric temperatures consist of radiosonde, satellite, lidar and rocketsonde measurements, meteorological analyses based on radiosonde and/or satellite data, and products based on assimilating observations using a general circulation model. Each of these contains varying degree of uncertainties that influence the interpretation and significance of trends. A review of the long-term trends over the mid-1960s to the mid- 1990s period has been performed using the available datasets. The authors of the review included scientists from NOAA’s GFDL (lead author V. Ramaswamy) and ARL (J. Angell and D. Seidel), other US institutions such as NCAR and NASA-Goddard, and institutions abroad (France, Germany, UK, Japan and Russia). This was truly a collaborative research effort across several US organizations and international institutions. This is the first such comprehensive review of its kind since the late 1980s.

The evaluations reveal that the stratosphere has, in general, undergone considerable cooling over the past 3 decades. At northern midlatitudes, the lower stratosphere (~16-21 km.) cooling over the 1979-1994 period is strikingly coherent among the various datasets with regard to magnitude and statistical significance. A substantial cooling occurs in the polar lower stratospheres during winter-spring; however, there is a large dynamical variability in the northern polar region. The vertical profile of the annual-mean stratospheric temperature change in the northern midlatitudes over the 1979-1994 period is robust among the different datasets, with ~0.75K/decade cooling in the ~20-35 km region, and increasing cooling above (e.g., ~2.5K/decade at 50 km.).

Model investigations into the causes of the observed temperature trends are also reviewed. Simulations based on the known changes in species’ concentrations indicate that the depletion of lower stratospheric ozone is the major radiative factor in accounting for the 1979-1990 cooling trend in the global, annual-mean lower stratosphere (~0.5 to 0.6 K/decade), with substantially lesser contribution by the well-mixed greenhouse gases. Ozone loss is also an important causal factor in the latitude-month pattern of the lower stratospheric cooling trend. Uncertainties arise due to incomplete knowledge of the vertical profile of ozone loss near the tropopause. In the middle and upper stratosphere, both well-mixed greenhouse gases and ozone changes contribute in an important manner to the cooling, but model simulations underestimate the observed decadal- scale trend. While there is a lack of reliable information on water vapor changes over the 1980s decade, satellite measurements in the early-to-mid 1990s indicate increases in water vapor that could be a significant contributor to the cooling of the global lower stratosphere.

Ramaswamy, V., M-L. Chanin, J, Angell, J. Barnett, D. Seidel, M. Gelman, P. Keckhut, Y. Koshlekov, K. Labitzke, J-J. Lin, A. O’Neill, J. Nash, W. Randel, R. Rood, K. Shine, M. Shiotani, and R. Swinbank, Stratospheric temperature trends: Observations and model simulations, Reviews of Geophysics, 39, 71-122 (2001).

Contact information: Dian J Seidel
Phone: (301) 713-0625