A Modern Approach to Stability-Based Definition of the Tropopause

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Citation of Original Publication

Tinney, Emily N., Cameron R. Homeyer, Lexy Elizalde, Dale F. Hurst, Anne M. Thompson, Ryan M. Stauffer, Holger Vömel, and Henry B. Selkirk. "A Modern Approach to Stability-Based Definition of the Tropopause", Monthly Weather Review (published online ahead of print 2022), accessed Sep 20, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-22-0174.1


This work was written as part of one of the author's official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.
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Definition of the tropopause has remained a focus of atmospheric science since its discovery near the beginning of the 20th century. Few universal definitions (those that can be reliably applied globally and to both common observations and numerical model output) exist and many definitions with unique limitations have been developed over the years. The most commonly used universal definition of the tropopause is the temperature lapse-rate definition established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1957 (the LRT). Despite its widespread use, there are recurrent situations where the LRT definition fails to reliably identify the tropopause. Motivated by increased availability of coincident observations of stability and composition, this study seeks to re-examine the relationship between stability and composition change in the tropopause transition layer and identify areas for improvement in stability-based definition of the tropopause. In particular, long-term (40+ years) balloon observations of temperature, ozone, and water vapor from six locations across the globe are used to identify co-variability between several metrics of atmospheric stability and composition. We found that the vertical gradient of potential temperature is a superior stability metric to identify the greatest composition change in the tropopause transition layer, which we use to propose a new universally applicable potential temperature gradient tropopause (PTGT) definition. Application of the new definition to both observations and reanalysis output reveals that the PTGT largely agrees with the LRT, but more reliably identifies tropopause-level composition change when the two definitions differ greatly.