1Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Institut für Physik der Atmosphäre (IPA), Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany
2Stockholm University, Institute of Applied Environmental Research (ITM), Stockholm, Sweden
3Dalhousie University, Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
4Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD), CNRS-IPSL, École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France
5Lehrstuhl für Bioklimatologie und Immissionsforschung, Technische Universität München (TUM), Freising, Germany
*Now at: Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado/NOAA Aeronomyity, Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.
Abstract. Factors controlling the microphysical link between distributions of relative humidity above ice saturation in the upper troposphere and lowermost stratosphere and cirrus clouds are examined with the help of microphysical trajectory simulations. Our findings are related to results from aircraft measurements and global model studies. We suggest that the relative humidities at which ice crystals form in the atmosphere can be inferred from in situ measurements of water vapor and temperature close to, but outside of, cirrus clouds. The comparison with concomitant measurements performed inside cirrus clouds provides a clue to freezing mechanisms active in cirrus. The analysis of field data taken at northern and southern midlatitudes in fall 2000 reveals distinct differences in cirrus cloud freezing thresholds. Homogeneous freezing is found to be the most likely mechanism by which cirrus form at southern hemisphere midlatitudes. The results provide evidence for the existence of heterogeneous freezing in cirrus in parts of the polluted northern hemisphere, but do not suggest that cirrus clouds in this region form exclusively on heterogeneous ice nuclei, thereby emphasizing the crucial importance of homogeneous freezing. The key features of distributions of upper tropospheric relative humidity simulated by a global climate model are shown to be in general agreement with both, microphysical simulations and field observations, delineating a feasible method to include and validate ice supersaturation in other large-scale atmospheric models, in particular chemistry-transport and weather forecast models.