6.5 Coupling between the stratosphere and troposphere

The Kodera and Gray studies discussed in Section 6.2 provide evidence, and mechanisms, whereby solar perturbations to the upper stratosphere may affect the lower stratosphere, in both cases enhancing any direct solar heating in this region. However, they do not explain the apparent subsequent propagation of the solar signal downwards into the troposphere.

There is some observational evidence that variations in the strength of the polar vortex in the upper stratosphere may subsequently influence surface climate. A study of polar temperature trends by Thompson et al. (2005) suggests a downward influence, and modelling experiments by Gillett and Thompson (2003) demonstrate that depletion of stratospheric ozone over the south pole can affect the troposphere after about one month. Neither of these studies is specifically concerned with a solar influence but the accumulating evidence suggests that any factor influencing the strength of the polar stratospheric jet may be able to influence surface climate, at least at high latitudes.

Similarly the apparent success of the tropospheric GCM studies (see Section 6.4) in simulating the observed response to solar variability provides intriguing evidence that changes to the stratosphere, specifically induced by variations in solar UV radiation and resulting changes in ozone, can influence the troposphere. But they do not provide a detailed understanding of the mechanisms whereby these effects take place.

Recently some effort to advance understanding of the mechanisms of stratosphere-troposphere coupling has been made through the use of simplified general circulation models (Polvani and Kushner, 2002Kushner and Polvani, 2004Haigh et al., 2005Jump To The Next Citation PointHaigh and Blackburn, 2006Jump To The Next Citation Point). These models include a full representation of atmospheric dynamics but only highly-parameterised representations of radiative and cloud processes so that multiple runs can be carried out. These experiments are not intended to simulate solar (or any other specific) forcing factors but to identify and investigate possible mechanisms for stratosphere-troposphere coupling.

In the experiments of Haigh et al. (2005Jump To The Next Citation Point) two types of perturbation were applied: in the first a uniform stratospheric heating was imposed while in the second the applied heating was largest at the equator and smoothed to zero at the poles. Figure 42View Image shows some of the results for zonal wind. The first feature of note is that, although the perturbations were applied only in the stratosphere, a response is clearly seen in the troposphere: the uniform stratospheric perturbation causes the sub-tropical jets to weaken and move equatorward while in response to the perturbation with the latitudinal gradient the jet again weakens but moves slightly poleward. The response of the mean meridional circulation (not shown) is that the Hadley cell weakens in both cases but shrinks latitudinally in the former and expands in the latter.

The magnitudes of the perturbations applied in these experiments was much larger than might be expected from solar influences so that no direct comparison with observations is appropriate. It is clear, however, that the dynamical response to the equatorial stratospheric heating perturbation, plausibly more similar to solar forcing, is qualitatively similar to the response to solar UV found in both observations and full GCMs. Further understanding of the processes involved has been gained by diagnosis of the vertically integrated budget of zonal momentum. It is clear from Figure 43View Image that the major response is in the flux of momentum due to the zonally asymmetric eddies (i.e. synoptic-scale weather systems).

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Figure 42: Results from a simplified global circulation model showing how anomalous heating of the stratosphere can influence the jets through the depth of the troposphere. (a) zonal mean zonal wind in one hemisphere as a function of latitude and pressure from the control run; (b) difference between uniform stratospheric heating case and the control; (c) difference between equatorial stratospheric heating case and the control. Shaded areas are not significant at the 5% level. From Haigh et al. (2005Jump To The Next Citation Point).

In order to investigate the chain of causality involved in converting the stratospheric thermal forcing to a tropospheric climate signal another experiment used an ensemble of model spin-ups to analyse the time development of the response to an applied stratospheric perturbation (Haigh and Blackburn, 2006). It was found that the initial effect of the change in static stability at the tropopause is to reduce the eddy momentum flux convergence in this region. This is followed by a vertical transfer of the momentum forcing anomaly by an anomalous mean circulation to the surface, where it is partly balanced by surface stress anomalies. The unbalanced part drives the evolution of the vertically integrated zonal flow. It was concluded that solar heating of the stratosphere may produce changes in the circulation of the troposphere even without any direct forcing below the tropopause and that the impact of the stratospheric changes on wave propagation is key to the mechanisms involved.

This work is beginning to provide us with an understanding of how, through the spectral composition of solar irradiance, apparently small changes in solar irradiance may significantly impact the circulation of the lower atmosphere.

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Figure 43: Vertically-integrated budget of components of the momentum equation: transport by eddies (red), transport by the zonal mean circulation (blue), dissipation by surface stress (green), sum of the eddy and zonal components (black), net rate of change of momentum (cyan), i.e. the difference between the black and green curves. Top: control run; bottom left: difference between uniform stratospheric heating case and the control; bottom right: difference between equatorial stratospheric heating case and the control. From Haigh et al. (2005).


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