The Impact of Bark Beetle Infestations on Monoterpene Emissions and Secondary Organic Aerosol Formation in Western North America

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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

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Over the last decade, extensive beetle outbreaks in western North America have destroyed over 100 000 km2 of forest throughout British Columbia and the western United States. Beetle infestations impact monoterpene emissions through both decreased emissions as trees are killed (mortality effect) and increased emissions in trees under attack (attack effect). We use 14 yr of beetle-induced tree mortality data together with beetle-induced monoterpene emission data in the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Earth System Model (CESM) to investigate the impact of beetle-induced tree mortality and attack on monoterpene emissions and secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation in western North America.

Regionally, beetle infestations may have a significant impact on monoterpene emissions and SOA concentrations, with up to a 4-fold increase in monoterpene emissions and up to a 40% increase in SOA concentrations in some years (in a scenario where the attack effect is based on observed lodgepole pine response). Responses to beetle attack depend on the extent of previous mortality and the number of trees under attack in a given year, which can vary greatly over space and time. Simulated enhancements peak in 2004 (British Columbia) and 2008 (US). Responses to beetle attack are shown to be substantially larger (up to a 3-fold localized increase in summertime SOA concentrations) in a scenario based on bark-beetle attack in spruce trees. Placed in the context of observations from the IMPROVE network, the changes in SOA concentrations due to beetle attack are in most cases small compared to the large annual and interannual variability in total organic aerosol which is driven by wildfire activity in western North America. This indicates that most beetle-induced SOA changes are not likely detectable in current observation networks; however, these changes may impede efforts to achieve natural visibility conditions in the national parks and wilderness areas of the western United States.