Airborne measurements of acetonitrile (CH3CN) were made off the U.S. west coast, over California, and during two transfer flights over the U.S. in April and May of 2002. Acetonitrile was strongly enhanced in the plumes from two forest fires, confirming the usefulness of the measurement as an indicator for biomass burning emissions. The emission ratios relative to CO of acetonitrile in the two plumes were slightly higher than previously reported values for fires burning in other fuel types. No significant acetonitrile release was observed in the Los Angeles basin or from other point sources (ships and a power plant). Acetonitrile concentrations were significantly reduced in the marine boundary layer indicating the presence of an ocean uptake sink. Increased loss of acetonitrile was observed close to the coast, suggesting that acetonitrile was efficiently lost by dissolving in the upwelling ocean water, or by biological processes in the surface water.