Lower Thermospheric Material Transport via Lagrangian Coherent Structures

We show that inter-model variation due to under-constraint by observations impacts the ability to predict material transport in the lower thermosphere. Lagrangian coherent structures (LCSs), indicating regions of maximal separation (or convergence) in a time-varying flow, are derived in the lower thermosphere from models for several space shuttle water vapor plume events. We find that inter-model differences in thermospheric transport manifest in LCSs in a way that is more stringent than mean wind analyses. LCSs defined using horizontal flow fields from the Specified Dynamics version of the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model with thermosphere-ionosphere eXtension (SD-WACCMX) at 109 km altitude are compared to Global Ultraviolet Imager (GUVI) observations of the space shuttle main engine plume. In one case, SD-WACCMX predicts an LCS ridge to produce spreading not found in the observations. LCSs and tracer transport from SD-WACCMX and from data assimilative WACCMX (WACCMX + DART) are compared to each other and to GUVI observations. Differences in the modeled LCSs and tracer positions appear between SD-WACCMX and WACCMX + DART despite the similarity of mean winds. WACCMX + DART produces better tracer transport results for a July 2006 event, but it is unclear which model performs better in terms of LCS ridges. For a February 2010 event, when mean winds differ by up to 50 m/s between the models, differences in LCSs and tracer trajectories are even more severe. Low-pass filtering the winds up to zonal wavenumber 6 reduces but does not eliminate inter-model LCS differences. Inter-model alignment of LCSs improves at a lower 60 km altitude.
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Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
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