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Impact of the 2011 Southern U.S. Drought on Ground-Level Fine Aerosol Concentration in Summertime

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  • 1 Department of Marine Science, Texas A&M University, Galveston, Texas, and Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, and Department of Atmospheric Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • | 2 Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  • | 3 Laboratory for Climate and Ocean-Atmosphere Sciences, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing, China
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Abstract

This study investigates the impacts of the 2011 severe drought in the southern United States on ground-level fine aerosol (PM2.5) concentrations in the summer. The changes in surface concentrations and planetary boundary layer (PBL) budget of PM2.5 between June 2010 (near-normal rainfall) and June 2011 (severe drought) are quantified using surface observations and the GEOS-Chem model. Observations show an average enhancement of 26% (p < 10−4) in total PM2.5 over the southern U.S. (SUS) region during the drought, which is largely attributed to a ~120% increase in organic carbon (OC). Over Texas (TX) under extreme drought conditions, surface PM2.5 shows a mean decrease of 10.7% (p < 0.15), which is mainly driven by a decrease of 26% (p < 0.03) in sulfate. Model simulations reproduce the observed relative changes in total PM2.5, OC, and sulfate during the drought. The model correctly identifies OC as the major contributor to the overall PM2.5 increase over SUS and sulfate as the key driver of the PM2.5 decrease over TX. Budget analysis suggests that increased OC emissions from wildfires (+58 kt C month−1), enhanced SOA production (+1.1 kt C month−1), and transboundary inflow from Mexico (+8.6 kt C month−1) are major contributors to the increase in atmospheric OC contents over SUS. Over TX, a 70% decrease of aqueous-phase oxidation of sulfate, driven by decreasing low clouds, outweighs the combined effects of reduced wet deposition and decreased outflow as the key driver of sulfate decrease both at the surface and within the PBL.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JAS-D-14-0197.s1.

Corresponding author address: Yuxuan Wang, 200 Seawolf Parkway, P.O. Box 1675, Galveston, TX 77553. E-mail: wangyx@tamug.edu

Abstract

This study investigates the impacts of the 2011 severe drought in the southern United States on ground-level fine aerosol (PM2.5) concentrations in the summer. The changes in surface concentrations and planetary boundary layer (PBL) budget of PM2.5 between June 2010 (near-normal rainfall) and June 2011 (severe drought) are quantified using surface observations and the GEOS-Chem model. Observations show an average enhancement of 26% (p < 10−4) in total PM2.5 over the southern U.S. (SUS) region during the drought, which is largely attributed to a ~120% increase in organic carbon (OC). Over Texas (TX) under extreme drought conditions, surface PM2.5 shows a mean decrease of 10.7% (p < 0.15), which is mainly driven by a decrease of 26% (p < 0.03) in sulfate. Model simulations reproduce the observed relative changes in total PM2.5, OC, and sulfate during the drought. The model correctly identifies OC as the major contributor to the overall PM2.5 increase over SUS and sulfate as the key driver of the PM2.5 decrease over TX. Budget analysis suggests that increased OC emissions from wildfires (+58 kt C month−1), enhanced SOA production (+1.1 kt C month−1), and transboundary inflow from Mexico (+8.6 kt C month−1) are major contributors to the increase in atmospheric OC contents over SUS. Over TX, a 70% decrease of aqueous-phase oxidation of sulfate, driven by decreasing low clouds, outweighs the combined effects of reduced wet deposition and decreased outflow as the key driver of sulfate decrease both at the surface and within the PBL.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JAS-D-14-0197.s1.

Corresponding author address: Yuxuan Wang, 200 Seawolf Parkway, P.O. Box 1675, Galveston, TX 77553. E-mail: wangyx@tamug.edu

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