Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

The structure of the polar vortex


  • Mark R. Schoeberl,

  • Leslie R. Lait,

  • Paul A. Newman,

  • Joan E. Rosenfield


Reconstruction of the Airborne Antarctic Ozone Experiment and Airborne Arctic Stratosphere Expedition aircraft constituent observations, radiative heating rate computations, and trajectory calculations are used to generate comparative pictures of the 1987 southern hemisphere (SH) late winter and 1989 northern hemisphere (NH) mid-winter, lower stratospheric, polar vortices. Overall, both polar vortices define a region of highly isolated air, where the exchange of trace gases occurs principally at the vortex edge through erosional wave activity. Aircraft measurement showed that (1) between 50 and 100 mbar, horizontally stratified long-lived tracers such as N2O are displaced downward 2–3 km on the cyclonic (poleward) side of the jet with the meridional tracer gradient sharpest at the jet core. (2) Eddy mixing rates, computed using parcel ensemble statistics, are an order of magnitude or more lower on the cyclonic side of the jet compared to those on the anticyclonic side. (3) Poleward zonal mean meridional flow on the anticyclonic side of the jet terminates in a descent zone at the jet core. Despite the similarities between the SH and NH winter vortices, there are important differences. During the aircraft campaign periods, the SH vortex jet core was located roughly 8°–10° equatorward of its NH counterpart after pole centering. As a result of the larger size of the SH vortex, the dynamical heating associated with the jet core descent zone is displaced further from the pole. The SH polar vortex can therefore approach radiative equilibrium temperatures over a comparatively larger area than the NH vortex. The subsequent widespread formation of polar stratospheric clouds within the much colder SH vortex core gives rise to the interhemispheric differences in the reconstructed H2O, NOy, ClO, and O3, species which are affected by polar stratospheric clouds.