Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
Abstract. A record low total ozone column of 177 DU was observed at Reading, UK, on 19 January 2006. Low ozone values were also recorded at other stations in the British Isles and North West Europe on, and around, this date. Hemispheric maps of total ozone from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Ozone Mapping Centre also show the evolution of this ozone minimum from 15–20 January 2006 over North West Europe.
Ozonesonde measurements made at Lerwick, UK, show that ozone mixing ratios in the mid-stratosphere on 18 January are around 1–2 ppmv lower than both climatology and observations made one and two weeks prior to this date. In addition, ozone mixing ratios in the UTLS region were also noticeably reduced on 18 January. Analysis of the ozonesonde observations indicate that the mid-stratosphere ozone accounts for around a third of the reduction in total ozone column measurements while the UTLS ozone values account for two thirds of the depletion. It is evident from the ozonesonde data that ozone loss is occuring at two distinct vertical regions.
Met Office analyses indicate that stratospheric polar vortex temperatures were cold enough for Polar Stratospheric Cloud (PSC) formation during 14 days in January prior to the low ozone event on 19 January. The presence of PSCs is confirmed by observations from the Scanning Imaging Absorption spectroMeter for Atmospheric CartograpHY (SCIAMACHY). As a consequence of a stratospheric sudden warming that was in progress during January 2006, the polar vortex was shifted southwards over northwest Europe. This includes a period from 16 to 19 January where PSCs were present in the vortex over the UK. Throughout most of January suitable conditions were present for ozone destruction by heterogenous chemistry within the polar vortex. Evidence from Lerwick and Sodankylä ozonesonde profiles, and maps of Ertel's potential vorticity calculated from Met Office analyses, strongly suggests that the air inside the stratospheric vortex was poor in ozone for at least one week prior to 18 January. It is also possible that local chemical destruction of stratospheric ozone further contributed to the record low ozone observed at Reading.
A closer examination of the WMO total ozone maps shows that the daily minima are often of synoptic, rather than planetary, scale. This therefore suggests a tropospheric, rather than stratospheric, mechanism for the ozone minima. Moderate total ozone depletion is commonly observed in the northern hemisphere middle and high latitude winter. This depletion is related to the lifting of the tropopause associated with the presence of an upper troposphere/lower stratosphere anticyclone. We show a strong link between the ozone minima in the WMO maps and 100 hPa geopotential height from Met Office analyses, and therefore it appears that this may also be a plausible mechanism for the record low ozone column that is observed.
Back trajectories calculated by the Met Office NAME III model show that air parcels in the mid-stratosphere do arrive over the British Isles on 19 January via the polar vortex. The NAME III model results also show that air parcels near the tropopause arrive from low latitudes and are transported anticyclonically. Therefore this strongly suggests that the record low ozone values are due to a combination of a raised tropopause and the presence of low ozone stratospheric air aloft.