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M. Bithell, L. J. Gray, J. E. Harries, J. M. Russell III, and A. F. Tuck


The degree to which the Southern Hemisphere polar vortex is isolated against horizontal (isentropic) mixing is investigated using data from the Halogen Occulation Experiment (HALOE), U.K. Meteorological Office (UKMO) potential vorticity (PV), and contour advection diagnostics. Measurements of methane and water vapor taken by HALOE during a disturbed period in the Southern Hemisphere springtime (21 September–15 October 1992) are interpreted in light of the prevailing synoptic meteorology. Daily fields of winds and PV are shown to be essential in the interpretation of the data. A climatological high pressure region is responsible for a distorted vortex, and a substantial “vortex stripping” event is present, associated with the early stages of vortex breakdown. This leads to significant temporal, zonal, and altitudinal variations in the distribution of tracers. The authors point out the difficulties this presents for the interpretation of solar occultation data, especially with regard to the use of zonal average time series. Longitude-height methane distributions from two days during the period are examined. Both days show substantial variations in abundance around a latitude circle. In particular, the authors investigate HALOE measurements at 77°S on 15 October 1992, which indicate an abundance of methane in the height region 600–2000 K (∼30-l mb) that is more typical of midlatitude air. Similar distributions, observed in the 1991 HALOE data, have previously been interpreted as evidence for the penetration of midlatitude air into the vortex. Gradients of potential vorticity and contour advection diagnostics are employed to examine whether the UKMO winds are consistent with this hypothesis in 1992. Although midlatitude air is able to penetrate poleward of the main jet core by advection processes alone, an essentially intact inner core of vortex air remains, which does not mix to any great extent with air from lower latitudes. The authors show that the high-latitude HALOE abundances that are typical of midlatitude air were observed in a region of extensive filamentation and mixing, rather than within the inner, more isolated, core.

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