04 Mar 2024
 | 04 Mar 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Maximum ozone concentrations in the southwestern US and Texas: Implications of growing predominance of background contribution

David D. Parrish, Ian C. Faloona, and Richard G. Derwent

Abstract. We utilize a simple, observational-based model to quantitatively estimate the US anthropogenic, background and wildfire contributions to the temporal and spatial distributions of maximum ozone concentrations throughout the southwestern US, including Texas and parts of California. The very different temporal variations of the separate contributions provide the basis for this analysis: over the past four decades the anthropogenic contribution has decreased at an approximately exponential rate by a factor of ~6.3, while the US background concentration rose significantly through the 1980s and 1990s, reached a maximum in the mid-2000s, and has since slowly decreased. We primarily analyze ozone design values (ODVs), an extreme value statistic of relatively rare maximum ozone concentrations upon which the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are based; ODV time series provide spatially and temporally resolved records of maximum ozone concentrations throughout the country. Recent contributions of US background ozone to ODVs (primarily due to transported baseline ozone) are 64 to 70 ppb over most of the southwestern US, and wildfires (also generally considered a background contribution) add further enhancements of 2 to 6 ppb in southwestern US urban areas. US anthropogenic emissions from urban and industrial sectors now produce only relatively modest enhancements to ODVs (less than ~6 ppb in 2020) outside of the three largest urban areas considered (Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles), where the 2020 enhancements were in the 17 to 30 ppb range. As a consequence, US background ozone concentrations now dominate over US anthropogenic contributions in the western US, including the Los Angeles urban basin, where the largest US ozone concentrations are observed. This finding has several implications: 1) A pronounced shift in the spatial distribution of maximum US ozone concentrations has occurred; once ubiquitous nearly nationwide, ODVs of 75 ppb or greater have nearly disappeared in the eastern US, but are still frequent in the southwestern US. 2) By 2021, the trend of maximum ODVs in two major eastern urban areas (i.e., New York City and Atlanta) had decreased to the point that they were smaller than those in smaller southwestern US urban areas, and nearly as small as ODVs recorded at isolated rural southwestern US sites. 3) Together, the US background plus wildfire contributions approach or exceed the US NAAQS for ozone of 70 ppb (implemented in 2015) and 75 ppb (implemented in 2008); consequently, in the southwestern US NAAQS achievement has been precluded. 4) Alternate emission control approaches may provide more effective approaches to air quality improvement; since background ozone makes the dominant contribution to even the highest observed concentrations, an international effort to reduce northern midlatitude baseline ozone concentrations could be pursued, or a standard based on the anthropogenic increment above the regionally-varying US background ozone concentration could be considered to provide a regionally uniform challenge of standard achievement. 5) The predominant contribution of US background ozone across the southwestern US presents a profound challenge for air quality modelling, since a manifold of stratospheric and tropospheric processes occurring on small spatial scales, but over hemisphere-wide distances, must be treated in detail to predict present and future background contributions to daily maximum ozone concentrations at local scales.

David D. Parrish, Ian C. Faloona, and Richard G. Derwent

Status: open (until 19 Apr 2024)

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David D. Parrish, Ian C. Faloona, and Richard G. Derwent
David D. Parrish, Ian C. Faloona, and Richard G. Derwent


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Short summary
Observational-based estimates of contributions to maximum ozone concentrations show that in the southwestern US background ozone can exceed the air quality standard of 70 ppb, precluding standard attainment. Over the past 4 decades US anthropogenic ozone has decreased by a factor of ~6.3, while wildfire contributions have increased, so that background now dominates maximum concentrations, even in Los Angeles, and the occurrence of maximum ozone has shifted from the eastern to the western US.