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Abstract

Information is now available regarding the vertical distribution of water vapour and helium in the lower stratosphere over southern England. The helium content of the air is found to be remarkably constant up to 20 km but the water content is found to fall very rapidly just above the tropopause, and in the lowest 1 km of the stratosphere the humidity mixing ratio falls through a ratio of 10—1.

The helium distribution is not compatible with the view of a quiescent stratosphere free from turbulence or vertical motions. The water-vapour distribution is incompatible with a turbulent stratosphere unless some dynamic process maintains the dryness of the stratosphere. In view of the large wind shear which is normally found just above the tropopause it is unlikely that this region is free from turbulence.

The observed distributions can be explained by the existence of a circulation in which air enters the stratosphere at the equator, where it is dried by condensation, travels in the stratosphere to temperate and polar regions, and sinks into the troposphere. The sinking, however, will warm the air unless it is being cooled by radiation and the idea of a stratosphere in radiative equilibrium must be abandoned. The cooling rate must lie between about 0.1 and 1.1°C per day but a value near 0.5°C per day seems most probable. At the equator the ascending air must be subject to heating by radiation.

The circulation is quite reasonable on energy considerations. It is consistent with the existence of lower temperatures in the equatorial stratosphere than in polar and temperate regions, and if the flow can carry ozone from the equator to the poles then it gives a reasonable explanation of the high ozone values observed at high latitudes. The dynamic consequences of the circulation are not considered. It should however be noted that there is considerable difficulty to account for the smallness of the westerly winds in the stratosphere, as the rotation of the earth should convert the slow poleward movement into strong westerly winds.