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Estimating the contribution of strong daily export events to total pollutant export from the United States in summer

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Abstract

[1] While the export of pollutants from the United States exhibits notable variability from day to day and is often considered to be “episodic,” the contribution of strong daily export events to total export has not been quantified. We use carbon monoxide (CO) as a tracer of anthropogenic pollutants in the Model of OZone And Related Tracers (MOZART) to estimate this contribution. We first identify the major export pathway from the United States to be through the northeast boundary (24–48°N along 67.5°W and 80–67.5°W along 48°N), and then analyze 15 summers of daily CO export fluxes through this boundary. These daily CO export fluxes have a nearly Gaussian distribution with a mean of 1100 Gg CO day−1 and a standard deviation of 490 Gg CO day−1. To focus on the synoptic variability, we define a “synoptic background” export flux equal to the 15 day moving average export flux and classify strong export days according to their fluxes relative to this background. As expected from Gaussian statistics, 16% of summer days are “strong export days,” classified as those days when the CO export flux exceeds the synoptic background by one standard deviation or more. Strong export days contributes 25% to the total export, a value determined by the relative standard deviation of the CO flux distribution. Regressing the anomalies of the CO export flux through the northeast U.S. boundary relative to the synoptic background on the daily anomalies in the surface pressure field (also relative to a 15 day running mean) suggests that strong daily export fluxes are correlated with passages of midlatitude cyclones over the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The associated cyclonic circulation and Warm Conveyor Belts (WCBs) that lift surface pollutants over the northeastern United States have been shown previously to be associated with long-range transport events. Comparison with observations from the 2004 INTEX-NA field campaign confirms that our model captures the observed enhancements in CO outflow and resolves the processes associated with cyclone passages on strong export days. “Moderate export days,” defined as days when the CO flux through the northeast boundary exceeds the 15 day running mean by less than one standard deviation, represent an additional 34% of summer days and 40% of total export. These days are also associated with migratory midlatitude cyclones. The remaining 35% of total export occurs on “weak export days” (50% of summer days) when high pressure anomalies occur over the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Our findings for summer also apply to spring, when the U.S. pollutant export is typically strongest, with similar contributions to total export and associated meteorology on strong, moderate and weak export days. Although cyclone passages are the primary driver for strong daily export events, export during days without cyclone passages also makes a considerable contribution to the total export and thereby to the global pollutant budget.

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