Articles | Volume 12, issue 21
Research article
02 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 02 Nov 2012

Wintertime particulate pollution episodes in an urban valley of the Western US: a case study

L.-W. A. Chen, J. G. Watson, J. C. Chow, M. C. Green, D. Inouye, and K. Dick

Abstract. This study investigates the causes of elevated PM2.5 episodes and potential exceedences of the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in Truckee Meadows, Nevada, an urban valley of the Western US, during winter 2009/2010, an unusually cold and snowy winter. Continuous PM2.5 mass and time-integrated chemical speciation data were acquired from a central valley monitoring site, along with meteorological measurements from nearby sites. All nine days with PM2.5 > 35 μg m−3 showed 24-h average temperature inversion of 1.5–4.5 °C and snow cover of 8–18 cm. Stagnant atmospheric conditions limited wind ventilation while highly reflective snow cover reduced daytime surface heating creating persistent inversion. Elevated ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and water associated with it are found to be main reasons for the PM2.5 exceedances. An effective-variance chemical mass balance (EV-CMB) receptor model using locally-derived geological profiles and inorganic/organic markers confirmed secondary NH4NO3 (27–37%), residential wood combustion (RWC; 11–51%), and diesel engine exhaust (7–22%) as the dominant PM2.5 contributors. Paved road dust and de-icing materials were minor, but detectable contributors. RWC is a more important source than diesel for organic carbon (OC), but vice versa for elemental carbon (EC). A majority of secondary NH4NO3 is also attributed to RWC and diesel engines (including snow removal equipment) through oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from these sources. Findings from this study may apply to similar situations experienced by other urban valleys.

Final-revised paper