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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics






Copernicus GmbH

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Ammonium-containing aerosols are a major component of wintertime air pollution in many densely populated regions around the world. Especially in mountain basins, the formation of persistent cold-air pools (PCAPs) can enhance particulate matter with diameters less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5) to levels above air quality standards. Under these conditions, PM2.5 in the Great Salt Lake region of northern Utah has been shown to be primarily composed of ammonium nitrate; however, its formation processes and sources of its precursors are not fully understood. Hence, it is key to understanding the emission sources of its gas phase precursor, ammonia (NH3). To investigate the formation of ammonium nitrate, a suite of trace gases and aerosol composition were sampled from the NOAA Twin Otter aircraft during the Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study (UWFPS) in January and February 2017. NH3 was measured using a quantum cascade tunable infrared laser differential absorption spectrometer (QC-TILDAS), while aerosol composition, including particulate ammonium (pNH4), was measured with an aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS). The origin of the sampled air masses was investigated using the Stochastic Time-Inverted Lagrangian Transport (STILT) model and combined with an NH3 emission inventory to obtain model-predicted NHx (=NH3+pNH4) enhancements. Enhancements represent the increase in NH3 mixing ratios within the last 24 h due to emissions within the model footprint. Comparison of these NHx enhancements with measured NHx from the Twin Otter shows that modelled values are a factor of 1.6 to 4.4 lower for the three major valleys in the region. Among these, the underestimation is largest for Cache Valley, an area with intensive agricultural activities. We find that one explanation for the underestimation of wintertime emissions may be the seasonality factors applied to NH3 emissions from livestock. An investigation of inter-valley exchange revealed that transport of NH3 between major valleys was limited and PM2.5 in Salt Lake Valley (the most densely populated area in Utah) was not significantly impacted by NH3 from the agricultural areas in Cache Valley. We found that in Salt Lake Valley around two thirds of NHx originated within the valley, while about 30 % originated from mobile sources and 60 % from area source emissions in the region. For Cache Valley, a large fraction of NOx potentially leading to PM2.5 formation may not be locally emitted but mixed in from other counties.