Interactions between the stratospheric ozone chemistry and atmospheric air flow lead to significant changes of airflow patterns from the ground up to the stratosphere. Scientists at the Research Unit Potsdam of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have investigated this fundamental process for climate interactions in the Arctic, and for the first time, incorporated it into climate models. Until now, it was not known what caused the natural variations of atmospheric air flow patterns which have played an important role for climate changes in the last decades.
Atmospheric airflows follow certain preferred patterns. The most important pattern for the northern hemisphere is the Arctic Oscillation. It's a spacious oscillation of the atmosphere that is characterized by opposing anomalies in air pressure in the central Arctic region and in parts of the mid- and subtropical latitudes. This oscillation of the atmosphere lasts for decades although it can be more or less pronounced.
In the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation, which has been predominant since 1970, the polar vortex during the winter is stable and the exchange of air masses between the mid- and higher latitudes is limited. In mid-latitudes strong westerly winds bring warm air from the Atlantic Ocean to North and Central Europe and Siberia during the winter. In the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation cold polar air can penetrate further south which leads to harsh winters in Europe.
So far feedback between the chemical processes in the stratosphere and the circulation in the troposphere and stratosphere (height between 0 and 10 kilometers or 10 and about 50 kilometers) have not been included in complex global climate models linking atmosphere and ocean. For the first time, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute have included a module of stratospheric ozone chemistry into a coupled global climate model. The scientists show that ozone chemistry significantly influences the Arctic Oscillation by comparing simulations of the standard model with results from the model extended by the new ozone chemistry module. Changes of atmospheric air flows and temperature distribution lead to an increase of the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during the winter seasons.
"Our research is an important contribution to reduce the uncertainty in the simulation of today's climate. Today's climate models carry, contrary to many claims, still a high level of uncertainty. Only by understanding the basic processes in the Arctic, can we quantify these deviations and eliminate them," said Sascha Brand of the Alfred Wegener Institute, main author of the published study. The results indicate that if interactions between atmospheric air flow and stratospheric ozone chemistry are being taken into account, they will also have an influence on the stability of the polar vortex in the simulation of future climate developments and should therefore be included in climate models. In a follow-up project, the new model will be used for the calculation of future climate developments.
This research has just been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (Brand et al, Geophys. Res. Lett.).
Materials provided by Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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