New atmospheric modeling paradigm breaks previously accepted notions

May 23, 2013
Crossing the Atmosphere's Next Frontier
A blanket of atmospheric particles and pollution covers Mexico City impacting visibility, climate and human health. Aerosol and gases from natural and urban sources mix and chemically react in the atmosphere to form secondary organic aerosols, the subject of this study. The photo was taken from a research aircraft flight during the Megacity Initiative: Local and Global Research Observations (MILAGRO) field study in March 2006.

(Phys.org) —Fortified with new evidence of particles' true disposition, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a multi-dimensional modeling framework that predicts their formation and evolution in the atmosphere. Instead of treating secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), created by a mix of natural and human-caused emissions, as liquid-like volatile solutions as has traditionally been done, they modeled them as non-volatile semi-solids. The study is an important step in improving SOA modeling representations based on recent experimental findings of evaporation rates, diffusivity, and viscosity.

"Our work opens new frontiers in the field of secondary organic aerosols," said research lead Dr. Manish Shrivastava, an at PNNL. "In this study, we have taken the first step to improve the 's representation of secondary organic aerosols based on our new experimental findings of low volatility and high viscosity of secondary ."

The haze over a city or the ash trail of a burning forest is visible evidence that something is in the air. But, are in the air whether we see them or not. They affect climate, the weather, and human health. Biogenic sources, like trees and grasses, and anthropogenic sources from transportation and industrial activity release large amounts of gas-phase carbon-containing material. Their vapors chemically react when exposed to sunlight to form SOAs that often represent the dominant component of the tiny in many parts of the world. Understanding their formation, properties, and the changes they experience as they travel through the atmosphere is necessary to predict and mitigate and air quality.

The team applied state-of-the-art instrumentation and approaches to characterize properties of SOA particles in both laboratory and field settings. They showed that SOA particles are not at equilibrium as assumed by traditional models. Instead, researchers found the particles to be nearly non-volatile, and highly viscous. The team used both a box model and the three-dimensional Weather Research and Forecasting model with chemistry (WRF-Chem) to show that in this revised framework, semi-solid SOA do not evaporate when they are transported to cleaner environments, in sharp contrast to previous evaporating liquid SOA model formulations.

For the first time, the team expanded their model to include a multi-dimensional framework to represent the multi-generational aging of gas phase SOA precursors. This expansion added another dimension to explicitly track the different generations of gas-phase oxidation products that are changing due to a combination of functionalization and fragmentation reactions. After implementing the experimentally based, multi-dimensional framework in their comprehensive model they evaluated model predictions with aircraft measurements taken during the Megacity Initiative: Local and Global Research Observations (MILAGRO) 2006 field campaign over the Mexico City Plateau.

The new model formulation will be further evaluated with a much wider dataset of field measurements. The researchers are working to improve SOA model formulations and evaluate the implications of these findings in regional and global chemical transport models.

Explore further: A NASA satellite double-take at Hurricane Lowell

More information: Shrivastava, M. et al. 2013. Implications of Low Volatility SOA and Gas-phase Fragmentation Reactions on SOA Loadings and their Spatial and Temporal Evolution in the Atmosphere, Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 118. DOI: 10.1002/jgrd.50160.

Related Stories

Fair-weather clouds hold dirty secret

Apr 26, 2013

(Phys.org) —Their fluffy appearance is deceiving. Fair-weather clouds have a darker side, according to scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Fair-weather cumulus clouds contain an increasing ...

Recommended for you

Canada to push Arctic claim in Europe

6 hours ago

Canada's top diplomat will discuss the Arctic with his Scandinavian counterparts in Denmark and Norway next week, it was announced Thursday, a trip that will raise suspicions in Russia.

Severe drought is causing the western US to rise

12 hours ago

The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Scientists at Scripps Institution of ...

A NASA satellite double-take at Hurricane Lowell

12 hours ago

Lowell is now a large hurricane in the Eastern Pacific and NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites double-teamed it to provide infrared and radar data to scientists. Lowell strengthened into a hurricane during the ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

anti-geoengineering
1 / 5 (5) May 24, 2013
This is GEOENGINEERING.
beleg
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2013
The existence of any life form known will alter the geology of earth
Your nic, your comment and my reply are OT.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) May 24, 2013
This is GEOENGINEERING.

No. This is modeling of aerosols.

Geoengineering would be the active dispersal of aerosols for a particular purpose.