Evaluating Drought Responses of Surface Ozone Precursor Proxies: Variations...

Naimark, J. G., A. M. Fiore, X. Jin, Y. Wang, E. Klovenski, and C. Braneon (2022), Evaluating Drought Responses of Surface Ozone Precursor Proxies: Variations With Land Cover Type, Precipitation, and Temperature, Geophys. Res. Lett..

Prior work suggests drought exacerbates US air quality by increasing surface ozone concentrations. We analyze 2005–2015 tropospheric column concentrations of two trace gases that serve as proxies for surface ozone precursors retrieved from the OMI/Aura satellite: Nitrogen dioxide (ΩNO2; NOx proxy) and formaldehyde (ΩHCHO; VOC proxy). We find 3.5% and 7.7% summer drought enhancements (classified by SPEI) for ΩNO2 and ΩHCHO, respectively, corroborating signals previously extracted from ground-level observations. When we subset by land cover type, the strongest ΩHCHO drought enhancement (10%) occurs in the woody savannas of the Southeast US. By isolating the influences of precipitation and temperature, we infer that enhanced biogenic VOC emissions in this region increase ΩHCHO independently with both high temperature and low precipitation during drought. The strongest ΩNO2 drought enhancement (6.0%) occurs over Midwest US croplands and grasslands, which we infer to reflect the sensitivity of soil NOx emissions to temperature. Plain Language Summary Projected increases in drought severity and frequency for this century raise questions regarding possible impacts on air quality. Surface ozone, an air pollutant estimated to cause over 1 million annual premature deaths globally, forms when its precursor gases react in the sunlit atmosphere. These precursor gases depend on temperature and precipitation and thus can respond to drought. We analyze over a decade of satellite observations of two trace gases relevant to ozone formation and find that, on average, their concentrations increase during summer droughts in the Eastern US. While higher temperatures during droughts are usually associated with observed increases in trace gas concentrations, in the Southeast US we find increases associated with low precipitation independent of temperature. Satellite detection of these changes implies promise for application to other regions and more generally for improving mechanistic understanding of air quality responses to drought and other climate extremes.

Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)