Stratospheric water vapour and tropical tropopause temperatures in ECMWF analyses and multi-year simulations

A. J. Simmons, A. Untch, C. Jakob, P. Kållberg, P. Undén

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Stratospheric humidity analyses produced operationally by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) are discussed for the period since late January 1996 when the practice of resetting the upper-level specific humidity to a fixed value at each analysis time was abandoned. Near-tropopause analyses are in reasonable overall agreement with independent observations. Very low humidities occur in conjunction with deep convection and a particularly cold tropopause over the equatorial western Pacific during the northern winter. Drying occurs also in the cold core of the Antarctic polar-night vortex. The lower stratosphere is moistened in the outer tropics and subtropics in summer and autumn, predominantly in the northern hemisphere. Changes associated with the latest occurrence of El Nino are illustrated. Analysed temperatures near the tropical tropopause are generally in good agreement with corresponding radiosonde measurements, with standard-level biases of the order of 0.5 degC or less. The past two years are the coldest by about 1 degC in a series of tropical mean 100 hPa analyses extending back to 1979. A cooling trend of about 0.6 degC per decade is seen in the global means of the 100 hPa analyses. Moisture is spread zonally and upward from the tropical tropopause as the data assimilation proceeds, but the rate of upward transfer is much faster than observed. Substantial lateral mixing can occur within the stratosphere over the course of a season. Moistening at middle and high latitudes due to mixing with more humid tropospheric air is confined, realistically, to a shallow layer at the base of the stratosphere. The rate of upward transfer of tropical stratospheric moisture is much more realistic in a multi-year simulation using a version of the model that has finer stratospheric resolution than the version used for the operational data assimilation. Temperatures at the tropical tropopause and in the Antarctic polar night are accurately simulated, apart from excessive persistence of cold south-polar temperatures in late winter and early spring. The latter is conducive to drying the model stratosphere; lack of a parametrization of moistening due to methane oxidation is an obvious deficiency in this regard.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-386
Number of pages34
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number553
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • Humidity
  • Numerical modelling
  • Stratosphere

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