Possible effect of extreme solar energetic particle event of 20 January 2005 on polar stratospheric aerosols: direct observational evidence
1Institute of Physics, St.Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia
2Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory (Oulu unit), University of Oulu, Finland
3Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia
4Department of Physics, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Abstract. Energetic cosmic rays are the main source of ionization of the low-middle atmosphere, leading to associated changes in atmospheric properties. Via the hypothetical influence of ionization on aerosol growth and facilitated formation of cloud condensation nuclei, this may be an important indirect link relating solar variability to climate. This effect is highly debated, however, since the proposed theoretical mechanisms still remain illusive and qualitative, and observational evidence is inconclusive and controversial. Therefore, important questions regarding the existence and magnitude of the effect, and particularly the fraction of aerosol particles that can be formed and grow large enough to influence cloud condensation nuclei (CCN), are still open. Here we present empirical evidence of the possible effect caused by cosmic rays upon polar stratospheric aerosols, based on a case study of an extreme solar energetic particle (SEP) event of 20 January 2005. Using aerosol data obtained over polar regions from different satellites with optical instruments that were operating during January 2005, such as the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III), and Optical Spectrograph and Infrared Imaging System (OSIRIS), we found a significant simultaneous change in aerosol properties in both the southern and northern polar regions in temporal association with the SEP event. We speculate that ionization of the atmosphere, which was abnormally high during this extreme SEP event, might have led to formation of new particles and/or growth of preexisting ultrafine particles up to the size of CCN. However, a detailed interpretation of the effect is left for subsequent studies. This is the first time high vertical resolution measurements have been used to provide evidence for the probable production of stratospheric CCN from cosmic ray induced ionization.