It is the future of the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects life at Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, that is the focus of the present work. Fundamental changes in the composition and structure of the stratosphere in response to anthropogenic climate forcing may lead to catastrophic ozone loss under current, and even reduced, stratospheric halogen loading.
In particular, the evolution toward a colder, wetter stratosphere, threatens to enhance the heterogeneous conversion of inorganic halogen from its reservoir species to its catalytically active forms, and thus promote in situ ozone loss. Water vapor concentrations control the availability of reactive surface area, which facilitates heterogeneous chemistry. Furthermore, the rates of the key heterogeneous processes are tightly controlled by the ambient humidity. Thus, credible predictions of UV dosage require a quantitative understanding of both the sensitivity of these chemical mechanisms to water vapor concentrations, and an elucidation of the processes controlling stratospheric water vapor concentrations.
Toward this end, we present a set of four case studies utilizing high resolution in situ data acquired aboard NASA aircraft during upper atmospheric research missions over the past two decades.
1) We examine the broad scale humidity structure of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere from the midlatitudes to the tropics, focusing on cirrus formation and dehydration at the cold-point tropical tropopause. The data show evidence for frequent supersaturation in clear air, and sustained supersaturation in the presence of cirrus. These results challenge the strict thermal control of the tropical tropopause.
2) We investigate the likelihood of cirrus-initiated activation of chlorine in the midlatitude lower stratosphere. At midlatitudes the transition from conditions near saturation below the local tropopause to undersaturated air above greatly reduces the probability of heterogeneous activation and in situ ozone loss in this region.
3) We probe the details of heterogeneous processing in the wintertime Arctic vortex, and find that in situ measurements of OH provide incontrovertible evidence for the heterogeneous reaction of HOCl with HCl. This reaction is critical to sustaining catalytically active chlorine and prolonging ozone loss in the springtime vortex.
4) We revisit the topic of midlatitude ozone loss with an emphasis upon the response of ozone in this region to changes in the chemical composition and thermal structure of the lower stratosphere induced by anthropogenic climate change. Specifically, we show evidence for episodic moisture plumes in the overworld stratosphere generated by the rapid evaporation of ice injected into this region by deep convection, and find that these high water vapor plumes have the potential to alter the humidity of the lower stratosphere, and drastically increase the rate of heterogeneous chemistry and in situ ozone loss, given sufficient reactive surface.