How robust are stratospheric age of air trends from different reanalyses?
An accelerating Brewer–Dobson circulation (BDC) is a robust signal of climate change in model predictions but has been questioned by trace gas observations. We analyse the stratospheric mean age of air and the full age spectrum as measures for the BDC and its trend. Age of air is calculated using the Chemical Lagrangian Model of the Stratosphere (CLaMS) driven by ERA-Interim, JRA-55 and MERRA-2 reanalysis data to assess the robustness of the representation of the BDC in current generation meteorological reanalyses. We find that the climatological mean age significantly depends on the reanalysis, with JRA-55 showing the youngest and MERRA-2 the oldest mean age. Consideration of the age spectrum indicates that the older air for MERRA-2 is related to a stronger spectrum tail, which is likely associated with weaker tropical upwelling and stronger recirculation. Seasonality of stratospheric transport is robustly represented in reanalyses, with similar mean age variations and age spectrum peaks. Long-term changes from 1989 to 2015 turn out to be similar for the reanalyses with mainly decreasing mean age accompanied by a shift of the age spectrum peak towards shorter transit times, resembling the forced response in climate model simulations to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. For the shorter periods, 1989–2001 and 2002–2015, the age of air changes are less robust. Only ERA-Interim shows the hemispheric dipole pattern in age changes from 2002 to 2015 as viewed by recent satellite observations. Consequently, the representation of decadal variability of the BDC in current generation reanalyses appears less robust and is a major uncertainty of modelling the BDC.