Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 1, 43-75, 2001
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in ACP.
What does the global mean OH concentration tell us?
M. G. Lawrence, P. Jöckel, and R. von Kuhlmann
Max-Planck-Institute für Chemie, Postfach 3060, 55020 Mainz, Germany

Abstract. The global mean OH concentration ([OH]GM ) has been used as an indicator of the atmospheric oxidizing efficiency or its changes over time. It is also used for evaluating the performance of atmospheric chemistry models by comparing with other models or with observationally-based reference [OH]GM levels. We contend that the treatment of this quantity in the recent literature renders it problematic for either of these pur-poses. Several different methods have historically been used to compute [OH]GM: weighting by atmospheric mass or volume, or by the reaction with CH4 or CH3CCl3. In addition, these have been applied over different domains to represent the troposphere. While it is clear that this can lead to inconsistent [OH]GM values, to date there has been no careful assessment of the differences expected when [OH]GM is computed using various weightings and domains. Here these differences are considered using four different 3D OH distributions, along with the weightings mentioned above applied over various atmospheric domains. We find that the [OH]GM values computed based on a given distribution but using different domains for the troposphere can result in differences of 10% or more, while different weightings can lead to differences of up to 30%, comparable to the uncertainty which is commonly stated for [OH]GM or its trend. Thus, at present comparing [OH]GM values or trends from different studies does not provide clearly interpretable information about whether the OH amounts are actually similar or not, except in the few cases where the same weighting and domain have been used in both studies. Furthermore, we find that the only direct indicator of the global atmospheric oxidizing efficiency of OH with respect to a particular gas (e.g. CH4 or CH3CCl3 ) is the [OH]GM value weighted by the reaction with that gas; the mass-weighted and volume-weighted [OH]GM values, in contrast, are generally poor indicators of the atmospheric oxidizing efficiency on a global basis (regionally they are better). We recommend that in future studies the [OH]GM value weighted by the reaction with CH4 , along with the CH4 turnover time, be given as the primary indicators of the atmospheric oxidizing efficiency, and that serious evaluations of modeled OH concentrations be done with air mass weighted [OH]GM broken down into atmospheric sub-compartments, especially focusing on the tropics, where the atmospheric oxidizing efficiency is greatest.

Citation: Lawrence, M. G., Jöckel, P., and von Kuhlmann, R.: What does the global mean OH concentration tell us?, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 1, 43-75, doi:10.5194/acpd-1-43-2001, 2001.
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