Characterizing Sources of High Surface Ozone Events in the Southwestern US with Intensive Field Measurements and Two Global Models

Publication Year


Journal Article

The detection and attribution of high background ozone (O3) events in the southwestern US is challenging but relevant to the effective implementation of the lowered National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS; 70 ppbv). Here we leverage intensive field measurements from the Fires, Asian, and Stratospheric TransportLas Vegas Ozone Study (FAST-LVOS) in May–June 2017, alongside high-resolution simulations with two global models (GFDL-AM4 and GEOS-Chem), to study the sources of O3 during high-O3 events. We show possible stratospheric influence on 4 out of the 10 events with daily maximum 8 h average (MDA8) surface O3 above 65 ppbv in the greater Las Vegas region. While O3 produced from regional anthropogenic emissions dominates pollution events in the Las Vegas Valley, stratospheric intrusions can mix with regional pollution to push surface O3 above 70 ppbv. GFDL-AM4 captures the key characteristics of deep stratospheric intrusions consistent with ozonesondes, lidar profiles, and co-located measurements of O3, CO, and water vapor at Angel Peak, whereas GEOS-Chem has difficulty simulating the observed features and underestimates observed O3 by ∼20 ppbv at the surface. On days when observed MDA8 O3 exceeds 65 ppbv and the AM4 stratospheric ozone tracer shows 20–40 ppbv enhancements, GEOS-Chem simulates ∼15 ppbv lower US background O3 than GFDL-AM4. The two models also differ substantially during a wildfire event, with GEOS-Chem estimating ∼15 ppbv greater O3, in better agreement with lidar observations. At the surface, the two models bracket the observed MDA8 O3 values during the wildfire event. Both models capture the large-scale transport of Asian pollution, but neither resolves some fine-scale pollution plumes, as evidenced by aerosol backscatter, aircraft, and satellite measurements. US background O3 estimates from the two models differ by 5 ppbv on average (greater in GFDL-AM4) and up to 15 ppbv episodically. Uncertainties remain in the quantitative attribution of each event. Nevertheless, our multi-model approach tied closely to observational analysis yields some process insights, suggesting that elevated background O3 may pose challenges to achieving a potentially lower NAAQS level (e.g., 65 ppbv) in the southwestern US.

Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Date Published
September 2020
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