Climate variability modulates western US ozone air quality in spring via deep stratospheric intrusions

Lin, Meiyun; Fiore, Arlene M.; Horowitz, Larry W.; Langford, Andrew O.; Oltmans, Samuel J.; Tarasick, David; Rieder, Harald

Evidence suggests deep stratospheric intrusions can elevate western US surface ozone to unhealthy levels during spring. These intrusions can be classified as ‘exceptional events’, which are not counted towards non-attainment determinations. Understanding the factors driving the year-to-year variability of these intrusions is thus relevant for effective implementation of the US ozone air quality standard. Here we use observations and model simulations to link these events to modes of climate variability. We show more frequent late spring stratospheric intrusions when the polar jet meanders towards the western United States, such as occurs following strong La Niña winters (Niño3.4<−1.0 °C). While El Niño leads to enhancements of upper tropospheric ozone, we find this influence does not reach surface air. Fewer and weaker intrusion events follow in the two springs after the 1991 volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. The linkage between La Niña and western US stratospheric intrusions can be exploited to provide a few months of lead time during which preparations could be made to deploy targeted measurements aimed at identifying these exceptional events.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Ocean and Climate Physics
Nature Communications
Published Here
November 23, 2015