On the Background Stratospheric Aerosol Layer

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  • 1 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Wyoming, Laramie 82071
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Abstract

Balloonborne aerosol particle counter measurements are used in studying the stratospheric sulfate layer at Laramie, Wyoming, during 1978 and 1979, a 2-year volcanically quiescent period in which the layer appears to have been in a near equilibrium background state. Subtracting the background aerosol concentration from data obtained during an earlier volcanically active period indicates that the actual decay rate of volcanic aerosol is over 30% faster than one would obtain without this correction. At background, the aerosol size distribution is found to remain remarkably constant between the tropopause and an altitude of ∼25 km, with a sudden transition to a distribution dominated by smaller particles above this altitude. The observations, in some respects, compare favorably with equilibrium one-dimensional stratospheric aerosol models and thus to some extent support the concept of relatively inert tropospheric sulfurous gases, such as carbonyl sulfide and carbon disulfide as the main background stratospheric aerosol sulfur source. Models which incorporate sulfur chemistry are apparently not able to predict the observed variation of particle size with altitude. The 2-year background period is not long enough in itself to establish long-term trends. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May 1980 has considerably disrupted the background stratospheric aerosol which will probably not recover for several years. A comparison of the 1978-79 observations with Junge's original measurements made some 20 years earlier, also during a period void of volcanic perturbations, does not preclude a long-term increase in the background stratospheric aerosol level.

Abstract

Balloonborne aerosol particle counter measurements are used in studying the stratospheric sulfate layer at Laramie, Wyoming, during 1978 and 1979, a 2-year volcanically quiescent period in which the layer appears to have been in a near equilibrium background state. Subtracting the background aerosol concentration from data obtained during an earlier volcanically active period indicates that the actual decay rate of volcanic aerosol is over 30% faster than one would obtain without this correction. At background, the aerosol size distribution is found to remain remarkably constant between the tropopause and an altitude of ∼25 km, with a sudden transition to a distribution dominated by smaller particles above this altitude. The observations, in some respects, compare favorably with equilibrium one-dimensional stratospheric aerosol models and thus to some extent support the concept of relatively inert tropospheric sulfurous gases, such as carbonyl sulfide and carbon disulfide as the main background stratospheric aerosol sulfur source. Models which incorporate sulfur chemistry are apparently not able to predict the observed variation of particle size with altitude. The 2-year background period is not long enough in itself to establish long-term trends. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May 1980 has considerably disrupted the background stratospheric aerosol which will probably not recover for several years. A comparison of the 1978-79 observations with Junge's original measurements made some 20 years earlier, also during a period void of volcanic perturbations, does not preclude a long-term increase in the background stratospheric aerosol level.

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