The influence of mixing on the stratospheric age of air changes in the 21st century
Climate models consistently predict an acceleration of the Brewer–Dobson circulation (BDC) due to climate change in the 21st century. However, the strength of this acceleration varies considerably among individual models, which constitutes a notable source of uncertainty for future climate projections. To shed more light upon the magnitude of this uncertainty and on its causes, we analyse the stratospheric mean age of air (AoA) of 10 climate projection simulations from the Chemistry-Climate Model Initiative phase 1 (CCMI-I), covering the period between 1960 and 2100. In agreement with previous multi-model studies, we find a large model spread in the magnitude of the AoA trend over the simulation period. Differences between future and past AoA are found to be predominantly due to differences in mixing (reduced aging by mixing and recirculation) rather than differences in residual mean transport. We furthermore analyse the mixing efficiency, a measure of the relative strength of mixing for given residual mean transport, which was previously hypothesised to be a model constant. Here, the mixing efficiency is found to vary not only across models, but also over time in all models. Changes in mixing efficiency are shown to be closely related to changes in AoA and quantified to roughly contribute 10 % to the longterm AoA decrease over the 21st century. Additionally, mixing efficiency variations are shown to considerably enhance model spread in AoA changes. To understand these mixing efficiency variations, we also present a consistent dynamical framework based on diffusive closure, which highlights the role of basic state potential vorticity gradients in controlling mixing efficiency and therefore aging by mixing.