Composite study of aerosol export events from East Asia and North America
Abstract. We use satellite observations of aerosol optical depth (AOD) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) together with the GEOS-Chem global chemical transport model to contrast export of aerosols from East Asia and North America during 2004–2010. The GEOS-Chem model reproduces the spatial distribution and temporal variations of Asian aerosol outflow generally well, although a low bias (−30%) is found in the model fine mode AOD, particularly during summer. We use the model to identify 244 aerosol pollution export events from E. Asia and 251 export events from N. America over our 7-year study period. When these events are composited by season, we find that the AOD in the outflow is enhanced by 50–100% relative to seasonal mean values. The composite Asian plume splits into one branch going poleward to the Arctic in 3–4 days, with the other crossing the Pacific Ocean in 6–8 days. A fraction of the aerosols is trapped in the subtropical Pacific High during spring and summer. The N. American plume travels to the northeast Atlantic, reaching Europe after 4–5 days. Part of the composite plume turns anticyclonically in the Azores High, where it slowly decays. Both the Asian and N. American export events are favored by a dipole structure in sea-level pressure anomalies, associated with mid-latitude cyclone activity over the respective source regions. This dipole structure during outflow events is a strong feature for all seasons except summer, when convection becomes more important. The observed AOD in the E. Asian outflow exhibits stronger seasonality, with a spring maximum, than the N. American outflow, with a broad spring/summer maximum. The large spring AOD in the Asian outflow is the result of enhanced sulfate and dust aerosol concentrations, but is also due to a larger export efficiency of sulfate and SO2 from the Asian boundary layer relative to the N. American boundary layer. While the N. American sulfate outflow is mostly found in the lower troposphere (1–3 km altitude), the Asian sulfate outflow occurs at higher altitudes (2–6 km). In the Asian outflow 42–59% of the sulfate column is present above 2 km altitude, with only 24–35% in the N. American outflow. We link this to the factor of 2–5 lower precipitation in the warm conveyor belts (WCB) of midlatitude cyclones over E. Asia compared to N. America. This relative lack of precipitation makes Asian WCB very efficient for injecting aerosols in the middle troposphere.