Limited effect of anthropogenic nitrogen oxides on secondary organic aerosol formation
Abstract. Globally, secondary organic aerosol (SOA) is mostly formed from emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by vegetation, but it can be modified by human activities as demonstrated in recent research. Specifically, nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2) have been shown to play a critical role in the chemical formation of low volatility compounds. We have updated the SOA scheme in the global NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) Community Atmospheric Model version 4 with chemistry (CAM4-chem) by implementing a 4-product volatility basis set (VBS) scheme, including NOx-dependent SOA yields and aging parameterizations. Small differences are found for the no-aging VBS and 2-product schemes; large increases in SOA production and the SOA-to-OA ratio are found for the aging scheme. The predicted organic aerosol amounts capture both the magnitude and distribution of US surface annual mean measurements from the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE) network by 50 %, and the simulated vertical profiles are within a factor of 2 compared to aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) measurements from 13 aircraft-based field campaigns across different regions and seasons. We then perform sensitivity experiments to examine how the SOA loading responds to a 50 % reduction in anthropogenic nitric oxide (NO) emissions in different regions. We find limited SOA reductions of 0.9–5.6, 6.4–12.0 and 0.9–2.8 % for global, southeast US and Amazon NOx perturbations, respectively. The fact that SOA formation is almost unaffected by changes in NOx can be largely attributed to a limited shift in chemical regime, to buffering in chemical pathways (low- and high-NOx pathways, O3 versus NO3-initiated oxidation) and to offsetting tendencies in the biogenic versus anthropogenic SOA responses.