• temperature trends;
  • stratosphere and climate;
  • climate modelling;
  • Antarctic dehydration;
  • tropical stratosphere;
  • polar stratosphere


This study investigates the potential contribution of observed changes in lower stratospheric water vapour to stratospheric temperature variations over the past three decades using a comprehensive global climate model (GCM). Three case studies are considered. In the first, the net increase in stratospheric water vapour (SWV) from 1980–2010 (derived from the Boulder frost-point hygrometer record using the gross assumption that this is globally representative) is estimated to have cooled the lower stratosphere by up to ∼0.2 K decade−1 in the global and annual mean; this is ∼40% of the observed cooling trend over this period. In the Arctic winter stratosphere there is a dynamical response to the increase in SWV, with enhanced polar cooling of 0.6 K decade−1 at 50 hPa and warming of 0.5 K decade−1 at 1 hPa. In the second case study, the observed decrease in tropical lower stratospheric water vapour after the year 2000 (imposed in the GCM as a simplified representation of the observed changes derived from satellite data) is estimated to have caused a relative increase in tropical lower stratospheric temperatures by ∼0.3 K at 50 hPa. In the third case study, the wintertime dehydration in the Antarctic stratospheric polar vortex (again using a simplified representation of the changes seen in a satellite dataset) is estimated to cause a relative warming of the Southern Hemisphere polar stratosphere by up to 1 K at 100 hPa from July–October. This is accompanied by a weakening of the westerly winds on the poleward flank of the stratospheric jet by up to 1.5 m s−1 in the GCM. The results show that, if the measurements are representative of global variations, SWV should be considered as important a driver of transient and long-term variations in lower stratospheric temperature over the past 30 years as increases in long-lived greenhouse gases and stratospheric ozone depletion.