Ozone and alkyl nitrate formation from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill atmospheric emissions

J. A. Neuman, K. C. Aikin, E. L. Atlas, D. R. Blake, J. S. Holloway, S. Meinardi, J. B. Nowak, D. D. Parrish, J. Peischl, A. E. Perring, I. B. Pollack, J. M. Roberts, T. B. Ryerson, M. Trainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Ozone (O3), alkyl nitrates (RONO2), and other photochemical products were formed in the atmosphere downwind from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill by photochemical reactions of evaporating hydrocarbons with NOx (=NO+NO2) emissions from spill response activities. Reactive nitrogen species and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were measured from an instrumented aircraft during daytime flights in the marine boundary layer downwind from the area of surfacing oil. A unique VOC mixture, where alkanes dominated the hydroxyl radical (OH) loss rate, was emitted into a clean marine environment, enabling a focused examination of O3 and RONO 2 formation processes. In the atmospheric plume from DWH, the OH loss rate, an indicator of potential O3 formation, was large and dominated by alkanes with between 5 and 10 carbons per molecule (C 5-C10). Observations showed that NOx was oxidized very rapidly with a 0.8h lifetime, producing primarily C6-C10 RONO2 that accounted for 78% of the reactive nitrogen enhancements in the atmospheric plume 2.5h downwind from DWH. Both observations and calculations of RONO2 and O3 production rates show that alkane oxidation dominated O3 formation chemistry in the plume. Rapid and nearly complete oxidation of NOx to RONO2 effectively terminated O3 production, with O3 formation yields of 6.0±0.5 ppbv O3 per ppbv of NOx oxidized. VOC mixing ratios were in large excess of NOx, and additional NOx would have formed additional O3 in this plume. Analysis of measurements of VOCs, O3, and reactive nitrogen species and calculations of O3 and RONO2 production rates demonstrate that NOx-VOC chemistry in the DWH plume is explained by known mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD09305
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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