Volatile organic compound distributions during the NACHTT campaign at the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory: Influence of urban and natural gas sources



[1] A comprehensive suite of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was measured at the semirural Boulder Atmospheric Observatory (BAO) in northeast Colorado during the Nitrogen, Aerosol Composition, and Halogens on a Tall Tower (NACHTT) campaign during the winter of 2011. A signature of elevated nonmethane hydrocarbon (NMHC) mixing ratios was observed throughout the campaign. The C2-C5 alkane mixing ratios were an order of magnitude greater than the regional background. Light alkane mixing ratios were similar to those at urban sites impacted by petrochemical industry emissions with ethane and propane reaching maximums of over 100 ppbv. The mean (± standard deviation) calculated total OH reactivity (7.0 ± 5.0 s−1) was also similar to urban sites. Analysis of VOC wind direction dependence, emission ratios with tracer compounds, and vertical profiles up to 250 m implicated regional natural gas production activities as the source of the elevated VOCs to the northeast of BAO and urban combustion emissions as the major VOC source to the south of BAO. Elevated acetonitrile and dimethyl sulfide mixing ratios were also associated with natural gas emissions. Fluxes of natural gas associated NMHCs were determined to estimate regional emission rates which ranged from 40 ± 14 Gg yr−1 for propane to 0.03 ± 0.01 Gg yr−1 for n-nonane. These emissions have the potential to impact downwind air quality as natural gas associated NMHCs comprised ≈24% of the calculated OH reactivity. The measurements described here provide a baseline for determining the efficacy of future policies designed to control emissions from natural gas production activities.