Role of persistent low-level clouds in mitigating air quality impacts of wintertime cold pool conditions

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Geological Sciences

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The Yakima Air Wintertime Nitrate Study (YAWNS) was conducted in January 2013 to investigate the drivers of elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) frequently present in the region during winter stagnation periods. An extended stagnation period occurred during the study. For the first four days of the event, skies were clear and the strong diel variation in air pollution patterns were consistent with the expected effects of strong low-level nighttime temperature inversions with moderate mixing during daylight hours. Later in the event a low-level cloud layer formed that persisted over the Yakima Valley for the next seven days while regional conditions remained stagnant. Coincident with the onset of cloud, the levels of all measured primary pollutants, including CO2, CO, NOx, particle number concentration, and black carbon, dropped dramatically and remained low with negligible diel variation for as long as the cloud layer was present. The observed patterns for these air pollutants are consistent with decreased stability and enhanced mixing associated with the cloud-topped boundary layer. Interestingly, levels of secondary pollutants, most notably particulate ammonium nitrate, did not exhibit the same decline. This difference may be due to shifts in the chemical production of secondary pollutants during cloudy conditions, or may merely reflect a further influence of mixing. The results imply that the best strategies for managing wintertime air quality during episodes of persistent cloud are likely different from those needed during clear-sky stagnation events.


This article was originally published in Atmospheric Environment. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Atmospheric Environment


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