Understanding Recent Stratospheric Climate Change

David W. J. Thompson, Susan Solomon

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The long-term, global-mean cooling of the lower stratosphere stems from two downward steps in temperature, both of which are coincident with the cessation of transient warming after the volcanic eruptions of El Chichón and Mount Pinatubo. Previous attribution studies reveal that the long-term cooling is linked to ozone trends, and modeling studies driven by a range of known forcings suggest that the steps reflect the superposition of the long-term cooling with transient variability in upwelling longwave radiation from the troposphere. However, the long-term cooling of the lower stratosphere is evident at all latitudes despite the fact that chemical ozone losses are thought to be greatest at middle and polar latitudes. Further, the ozone concentrations used in such studies are based on either 1) smooth mathematical functions fit to sparsely sampled observations that are unavailable during postvolcanic periods or 2) calculations by a coupled chemistry–climate model.

Here the authors provide observational analyses that yield new insight into three key aspects of recent stratospheric climate change. First, evidence is provided that shows the unusual steplike behavior of global-mean stratospheric temperatures is dependent not only upon the trend but also on the temporal variability in global-mean ozone immediately following volcanic eruptions. Second, the authors argue that the warming/cooling pattern in global-mean temperatures following major volcanic eruptions is consistent with the competing radiative and chemical effects of volcanic eruptions on stratospheric temperature and ozone. Third, it is revealed that the contrasting latitudinal structures of recent stratospheric temperature and ozone trends are consistent with large-scale increases in the stratospheric overturning Brewer–Dobson circulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1934–1943
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2009

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