Articles | Volume 11, issue 8
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 3595–3609, 2011
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 3595–3609, 2011

Research article 18 Apr 2011

Research article | 18 Apr 2011

Vertical profiles of nitrous acid in the nocturnal urban atmosphere of Houston, TX

K. W. Wong1, H.-J. Oh1, B. L. Lefer2, B. Rappenglück2, and J. Stutz1 K. W. Wong et al.
  • 1University of California Los Angeles, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
  • 2Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-5007, USA

Abstract. Nitrous acid (HONO) often plays an important role in tropospheric photochemistry as a major precursor of the hydroxyl radical (OH) in early morning hours and potentially during the day. However, the processes leading to formation of HONO and its vertical distribution at night, which can have a considerable impact on daytime ozone formation, are currently poorly characterized by observations and models. Long-path differential optical absorption spectroscopy (LP-DOAS) measurements of HONO during the 2006 TexAQS II Radical and Aerosol Measurement Project (TRAMP), near downtown Houston, TX, show nocturnal vertical profiles of HONO, with mixing ratios of up to 2.2 ppb near the surface and below 100 ppt aloft. Three nighttime periods of HONO, NO2 and O3 observations during TRAMP were used to perform model simulations of vertical mixing ratio profiles. By adjusting vertical mixing and NOx emissions the modeled NO2 and O3 mixing ratios showed very good agreement with the observations.

Using a simple conversion of NO2 to HONO on the ground, direct HONO emissions, as well as HONO loss at the ground and on aerosol, the observed HONO profiles were reproduced by the model for 1–2 and 7–8 September in the nocturnal boundary layer (NBL). The unobserved increase of HONO to NO2 ratio (HONO/NO2) with altitude that was simulated by the initial model runs was found to be due to HONO uptake being too small on aerosol and too large on the ground. Refined model runs, with adjusted HONO uptake coefficients, showed much better agreement of HONO and HONO/NO2 for two typical nights, except during morning rush hour, when other HONO formation pathways are most likely active. One of the nights analyzed showed an increase of HONO mixing ratios together with decreasing NO2 mixing ratios that the model was unable to reproduce, most likely due to the impact of weak precipitation during this night.

HONO formation and removal rates averaged over the lowest 300 m of the atmosphere showed that NO2 to HONO conversion on the ground was the dominant source of HONO, followed by traffic emission. Aerosol did not play an important role in HONO formation. Although ground deposition was also a major removal pathway of HONO, net HONO production at the ground was the main source of HONO in our model studies. Sensitivity studies showed that in the stable NBL, net HONO production at the ground tends to increase with faster vertical mixing and stronger NOx emission. Vertical transport was found to be the dominant source of HONO aloft.

Final-revised paper