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Were Wildfires Responsible For The Unusually High Surface Ozone In 2 Colorado During 2021?


Ground-level ozone (O3) was unusually high in northern Colorado in the summer of 2021 with maximum daily 8-hr average (MDA8) concentrations 6 to 8 parts-per-billion by volume (ppbv) higher than in 2019, 2020, or 2022. One or more of the monitors on the Colorado Front Range exceeded the 2015 U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 70 ppbv on 66 of the 122 days from 1 June to 30 September, and this record number of exceedances coincided with the near daily presence of dispersed smoke haze from wildfires in Arizona, California, and the Pacific Northwest. In this paper, we use regulatory and non-regulatory surface O3 and PM2.5 measurements in conjunction with ground-based lidar observations to estimate how much O3 was associated with the wildfire smoke. Analyses of the surface measurements suggest that pyrogenic O3 transported to northern Colorado with the smoke increased the surface concentrations in northern Colorado by an average of 8 ppbv in July, 3 ppbv in August, and 2 ppbv in September. Analysis of the lidar measurements showed these contributions to be as large as 12 ppbv on some days. Production of O3 from reactions of pyrogenic VOCs and locally emitted NOx appears to have been minimal (<3 ppbv) in the Boulder area, but may have been much larger in the suburbs southwest of downtown Denver. Key Points The impacts of the 2021 western wildfires on ozone in the Denver metropolitan area and rural northern Colorado in 2021 are examined Ozone transported in the smoke from distant wildfires increased the 8-hr concentrations in northern Colorado by an average of 8 ppbv in July Unusual meteorology, including fewer thunderstorms, allowed ozone produced locally to accumulate along the foothills west of Denver Plain Language Summary Northern Colorado experienced unusually poor air quality in the summer of 2021 with frequent high ozone (O3) episodes and hazy skies caused by smoke from wildfires in Arizona, California, and the Pacific Northwest. In this study, we use surface and lidar measurements to explore the connection between the two. Our analysis suggests that the unusually high O3 was caused primarily by a combination of O3 transported to Colorado with the wildfire smoke and enhancement of local photochemical production by unusually clear skies and warm temperatures coupled with weak winds that led to localized O3 accumulations and fewer than normal thunderstorms that might otherwise have dispersed the O3. Production of O3 by reactions of locally emitted NOx with VOCs in the wildfire smoke may also have been significant in Southwest Denver.

Article / Publication Data
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Fiscal Year
Peer Reviewed
Publication Name
Jgr Atmospheres
Published On
June 20, 2023
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Print Volume


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