The role of methane in projections of 21st century stratospheric water vapour

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Stratospheric water vapour (SWV) is an important component of the Earth's atmosphere as it affects both radiative balance and the chemistry of the atmosphere. Key processes driving changes in SWV through the 21st century include dehydration of air masses transiting the cold-point tropopause (CPT) and methane oxidation. Increasing surface temperatures may strengthen the Brewer-Dobson circulation, such that more methane is transported into the stratosphere where it can be oxidised to SWV. We use a chemistry-climate model to simulate changes in SWV through the 21st century following the four canonical Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). Furthermore, we quantify the contribution that methane oxidation makes to SWV following each of the RCPs. The methane contribution to SWV maximises in the upper stratosphere, however modelled SWV trends are found to be driven predominantly by warming of the CPT and strengthening of the Brewer-Dobson circulation rather than by increasing methane oxidation. SWV changes by −5 % to 60 % (depending on the location in the atmosphere and emissions scenario) and increases in the lower stratosphere in all RCPs through the 21st century. Because the lower stratosphere is where water vapour radiative forcing maximises, SWV's influence on surface climate is also expected to increase through the 21st century.




Revell, L. E., Stenke, A., Rozanov, E., Ball, W., Lossow, S., & Peter, T. (2016). The role of methane in projections of 21st century stratospheric water vapour. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 16(20), 13067–13080.

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