Constraining tropospheric mixing timescales using airborne observations and numerical models
1National Observatory of Athens, Greece
2Centre for Atmospheric Science, Cambridge, UK
3School of the Environment, University of Leeds, UK
4Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Atmospheric Chemistry Department, Mainz, Germany
5German Aerospace Center, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany
Abstract. A technique is demonstrated for estimating atmospheric mixing time-scales from in-situ data, using a Lagrangian model initialised from an Eulerian chemical transport model (CTM). This method is applied to airborne tropospheric CO observations taken during seven flights of the Mediterranean Intensive Oxidant Study (MINOS) campaign, of August 2001. The time-scales derived, correspond to mixing applied at the spatial scale of the CTM grid. Specifically, they are upper bound estimates of the mix-down lifetime that should be imposed for a Lagrangian model to reproduce the observed small-scale tracer structure. They are relevant to the family of hybrid Lagrangian-Eulerian models, which impose Eulerian grid mixing to an underlying Lagrangian model. The method uses the fact that in Lagrangian tracer transport modelling, the mixing spatial and temporal scales are decoupled: the spatial scale is determined by the resolution of the initial tracer field, and the time scale by the trajectory length. The chaotic nature of lower-atmospheric advection results in the continuous generation of smaller spatial scales, a process terminated in the real atmosphere by mixing. Thus, a mix-down lifetime can be estimated by varying trajectory length so that the model reproduces the observed amount of small-scale tracer structure. Selecting a trajectory length is equivalent to choosing a mixing timescale. For the cases studied, the results are very insensitive to CO photochemical change calculated along the trajectories. The method is most appropriate for relatively homogeneous regions, i.e. it is not too important to account for changes in aircraft altitude or the positioning of stratospheric intrusions, so that small scale structure is easily distinguished. The chosen flights showed a range of mix-down time upper limits: 1 and 3 days for 8 August and 3 August, due to recent convective and boundary layer mixing respectively, and 7–9 days for 16, 17, 22a, 22c and 24 August. For the flight of 3 August, the observed concentrations result from a complex set of transport histories, and the models are used to interpret the observed structure, while illustrating where more caution is required with this method of estimating mix-down lifetimes.