The roles of temperature and water vapor at different stages of the polar mesospheric cloud season



[1] Temperature, or alternatively, saturation vapor pressure (PSAT), dominantly controls the polar mesospheric cloud (PMC) seasonal onset and termination, characterized by a strong anticorrelated relationship between the Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment (SOFIE)-observed PMC frequency and PSAT on intraseasonal time scales. SOFIE is highly sensitive to weak clouds and can obtain a nearly full spectrum of PMCs. Both the SOFIE PMC frequency and PSAT indicate a rapid onset and termination of the season. Compared to PSAT, the water vapor partial pressure (PH2O) exhibits only a slight increase from before to after the start of the season. We are able to use the PSAT daily minimum and two averaged PH2O levels taken before and after the solstice, respectively, to estimate the start and end days of the PMC season within 1–2 days uncertainty. SOFIE ice mass density and its relationship to PH2O and PSAT are examined on intraseasonal scales and for two extreme conditions, i.e., strong and weak cloud cases. In the strong cloud case, such as those bright clouds that occur during the core of the season, PH2O far exceeds PSAT and dominantly controls the ice mass density variation, while in the weak cloud case, such as those clouds that occur at the start and end of the season, PH2O and PSAThave comparable magnitudes, vary in concert, and have similar effects on the ice mass density variation. These results suggest that the long-term brightness trends reported by DeLand et al. (2007) are primarily driven by changes in water vapor (H2O), not temperature.