08 Nov 2022
08 Nov 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Nitrate Chemistry in the Northeast US Part II: Oxygen Isotopes Reveal Differences in Particulate and Gas Phase Formation

Heejeong Kim1,2, Wendell W. Walters2, Claire Bekker1,a, Lee T. Murray3, and Meredith G. Hastings1,2 Heejeong Kim et al.
  • 1Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, Brown University; Providence, RI 02912, USA
  • 2Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University; Providence, RI 02912, USA
  • 3Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester; Rochester, NY 14627, USA
  • anow at: Environmental Health Sciences, University of California Los Angeles; Los Angeles, CA 90095

Abstract. The northeastern US represents a mostly urban corridor impacted by high population density, high emissions density and degraded air quality and acid rain that has been a focus of regulatory-driven emissions reductions. Detailing the chemistry of atmospheric nitrate formation is critical for improving model representation of atmospheric chemistry and air quality. The oxygen isotope deltas (δ(18O) and Δ(17O)) of atmospheric nitrate are useful indicators in tracking nitrate formation pathways. Here, we measured Δ(17O) and δ(18O) for nitric acid (HNO3) and particulate nitrate (pNO3) from three US EPA Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET) sites in the northeastern US from December 2016 to 2018. The Δ(17O, HNO3) and δ(18O, HNO3) values ranged from 12.9 ‰ to 30.9 ‰ and from 46.9 ‰ to 82.1 ‰, and the Δ(17O, pNO3) and δ(18O, pNO) ranged from 16.6 ‰ to 33.7 ‰ and from 43.6 ‰ to 85.3 ‰, respectively. There was distinct seasonality of δ(18O) and Δ(17O) with higher values observed during winter compared to summer, suggesting a shift in O3 to HOx radical chemistry, as expected. Unexpectedly, there was a statistical difference in Δ(17O) between HNO3 and pNO3, with higher values observed for pNO3 (27.1+/-3.8) ‰ relative to HNO3 (22.7+/-3.6) ‰, and significant differences in the relationship between δ(18O) and Δ(17O). This difference suggests atmospheric nitrate phase-dependent oxidation chemistry that is not predicted in models. Based on output from GEOS-Chem, and both the δ(18O) and Δ(17O) observations, we quantify the production pathways of atmospheric nitrate. The model significantly overestimated the heterogeneous N2O5 hydrolysis production for both HNO3 and pNO3, a finding consistent with observed seasonal changes in δ(18O), Δ(17O) and δ(15N) of HNO3 and pNO3, though large uncertainties remain in the quantitative transfer of δ(18O) from major atmospheric oxidants. This comparison provides important insight into the role of oxidation chemistry in reconciling a commonly observed positive bias for model atmospheric nitrate concentrations in the northeastern US.

Heejeong Kim et al.

Status: open (until 20 Dec 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2022-622', Pete D. Akers, 18 Nov 2022 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2022-622', Anonymous Referee #2, 30 Nov 2022 reply

Heejeong Kim et al.

Heejeong Kim et al.


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Short summary
Atmospheric nitrate has an important impact on human and ecosystem health. We evaluated atmospheric nitrate formation pathways in the northeastern U.S. utilizing oxygen isotope compositions. There was a significant difference between the phases of nitrate, indicating different formation mechanisms. Comparison of the observations with model simulations indicated that N2O5 hydrolysis was overpredicted. Our study has important implications for improving atmospheric chemistry model representation.