On the seasonal onset of polar mesospheric clouds and the breakdown of the stratospheric polar vortex in the Southern Hemisphere



[1] Southern Hemisphere (SH) polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs), also known as noctilucent clouds, have been observed to be more variable and, in general, dimmer than their Northern Hemisphere (NH) counterparts. The precise cause of these hemispheric differences is not well understood. This paper focuses on one aspect of the hemispheric differences: the timing of the PMC season onset. Observations from the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere satellite indicate that in recent years the date on which the PMC season begins varies much more in the SH than in the NH. Using the Canadian Middle Atmosphere Model, we show that the generation of sufficiently low temperatures necessary for cloud formation in the SH summer polar mesosphere is perturbed by year-to-year variations in the timing of the late-spring breakdown of the SH stratospheric polar vortex. These stratospheric variations, which persist until the end of December, influence the propagation of gravity waves up to the mesosphere. This adds a stratospheric control to the temperatures in the polar mesopause region during early summer, which causes the onset of PMCs to vary from one year to another. This effect is much stronger in the SH than in the NH because the breakdown of the polar vortex occurs much later in the SH, closer in time to the PMC season.