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The effect of climate change on ozone depletion through changes in stratospheric water vapour


Several studies have predicted substantial increases in Arctic ozone depletion due to the stratospheric cooling induced by increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations1,2. But climate change may additionally influence Arctic ozone depletion through changes in the water vapour cycle. Here we investigate this possibility by combining predictions of tropical tropopause temperatures from a general circulation model with results from a one-dimensional radiative convective model, recent progress in understanding the stratospheric water vapour budget, modelling of heterogeneous reaction rates and the results of a general circulation model on the radiative effect of increased water vapour3. Whereas most of the stratosphere will cool as greenhouse-gas concentrations increase, the tropical tropopause may become warmer, resulting in an increase of the mean saturation mixing ratio of water vapour and hence an increased transport of water vapour from the troposphere to the stratosphere. Stratospheric water vapour concentration in the polar regions determines both the critical temperature below which heterogeneous reactions on cold aerosols become important (the mechanism driving enhanced ozone depletion) and the temperature of the Arctic vortex itself. Our results indicate that ozone loss in the later winter and spring Arctic vortex depends critically on water vapour variations which are forced by sea surface temperature changes in the tropics. This potentially important effect has not been taken into account in previous scenarios of Arctic ozone loss under climate change conditions.

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Figure 1: Temperature and water dependence of γSA at 50 mbar.
Figure 2: GCM simulation of tropical vertical temperature profile.


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We thank J. Kiehl for sharing output from the NCAR CCM3 GCM. This work was supported by NASA.

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Correspondence to Daniel B. Kirk-Davidoff.

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The updated model code from ref. 18 is available at

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Kirk-Davidoff, D., Hintsa, E., Anderson, J. et al. The effect of climate change on ozone depletion through changes in stratospheric water vapour. Nature 402, 399–401 (1999).

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