Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 545–555, 2012
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 545–555, 2012

Research article 11 Jan 2012

Research article | 11 Jan 2012

The global atmospheric budget of ethanol revisited

W. V. Kirstine1,2 and I. E. Galbally2 W. V. Kirstine and I. E. Galbally
  • 1School of Applied Sciences & Engineering, Monash University, Churchill, Victoria 3840, Australia
  • 2Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Victoria 3195, Australia

Abstract. Ethanol is an important biogenic volatile organic compound, which is increasingly used as a fuel for motor vehicles; therefore, an improved understanding of its atmospheric cycle is important. In this paper we use three sets of observational data, measured emissions of ethanol from living plants, measured concentrations of ethanol in the atmosphere and measured hydroxyl concentrations in the atmosphere (by methyl chloroform titration), to make two independent estimates related to the rate of cycling of ethanol through the atmosphere. In the first estimate, simple calculations give the emission rate of ethanol from living plants as 26 (range, 10–38) Tg yr−1. This contributes significantly to the total global ethanol source of 42 (range, 25–56) Tg yr−1. In the second estimate, the total losses of ethanol from the global atmosphere are 70 (range, 50–90) Tg yr−1, with about three-quarters of the ethanol removed by reaction with hydroxyl radicals in the gaseous and aqueous phases of the atmosphere, and the remainder lost through wet and dry deposition to land. These values of both the source of ethanol from living plants and the removal of atmospheric ethanol via oxidation by hydroxyl radicals (derived entirely from observations) are significantly larger than those in recent literature. We suggest that a revision of the estimate of global ethanol emissions from plants to the atmosphere to a value comparable with this analysis is warranted.

Final-revised paper