Evaluation of source gas lifetimes from stratospheric observations


  • C. M. Volk,

  • J. W. Elkins,

  • D. W. Fahey,

  • G. S. Dutton,

  • J. M. Gilligan,

  • M. Loewenstein,

  • J. R. Podolske,

  • K. R. Chan,

  • M. R. Gunson


Simultaneous in situ measurements of the long-lived trace species N2O, CH4, 12, CFC-113, CFC-11, CCl4, CH3CCl3, H-1211, and SF6 were made in the lower stratosphere and upper troposphere on board the NASA ER-2 high-altitude aircraft during the 1994 campaign Airborne Southern Hemisphere Ozone Experiment/ Measurements for Assessing the Effects of Stratospheric Aircraft. The observed extratropical tracer abundances exhibit compact mutual correlations that show little interhemispheric difference or seasonal variability except at higher altitudes in southern hemisphere spring. The environmental impact of the measured source gases depends, among other factors, on the rate at which they release ozone-depleting chemicals in the stratosphere, that is, on their stratospheric lifetimes. We calculate the mean age of the air from the SF6 measurements and show how stratospheric lifetimes of the other species may be derived semiempirically from their observed gradients with respect to mean age at the extratropical tropopause. We also derive independent stratospheric lifetimes using the CFC-11 lifetime and the slopes of the tracer's correlations with CFC-11. In both cases, we correct for the influence of tropospheric growth on stratospheric tracer gradients using the observed mean age of the air, time series of observed tropospheric abundances, and model-derived estimates of the width of the stratospheric age spectrum. Lifetime results from the two methods are consistent with each other. Our best estimates for stratospheric lifetimes are 122±24 years for N2O, 93±18 years for CH4, 87±17 years for CFC-12, 100±32 years for CFC-113, 32±6 years for CCl4, 34±7 years for CH3CCl3, and 24±6 years for H-1211. Most of these estimates are significantly smaller than currently recommended lifetimes, which are based largely on photochemical model calculations. Because the derived stratospheric lifetimes are identical to atmospheric lifetimes for most of the species considered, the shorter lifetimes would imply a faster recovery of the ozone layer following the phaseout of industrial halocarbons than currently predicted.