WAIS Divide ice core suggests sustained changes in the atmospheric formation pathways of sulfate and nitrate since the 19th century in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere

Sofen, E. D.; Alexander, B.; Steig, E. J.; Thiemens, M. H.; Kunasek, S. A.; Amos, H. M.; Schauer, A. J.; Hastings, M. G.; Bautista, J.; Jackson, T. L.; Vogel, L. E.; McConnell, J. R.; Pasteris, D. R.; Saltzman, E. S.

The 17O excess (Δ 17O = δ 17O−0.52 × δ 18O) of sulfate and nitrate reflects the relative importance of their different production pathways in the atmosphere. A new record of sulfate and nitrate Δ 17O spanning the last 2400 years from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide ice core project shows significant changes in both sulfate and nitrate Δ 17O in the most recent 200 years, indicating changes in their formation pathways. The sulfate Δ 17O record exhibits a 1.1 ‰ increase in the early 19th century from (2.4 ± 0.2) ‰ to (3.5 ± 0.2) ‰, which suggests that an additional 12–18% of sulfate formation occurs via aqueous-phase production by O 3, relative to that in the gas phase. Nitrate Δ 17O gradually decreases over the whole record, with a more rapid decrease between the mid-19th century and the present day of 5.6 ‰, indicating an increasing importance of RO 2 in NO x cycling between the mid-19th century and the present day in the mid- to high-latitude Southern Hemisphere. The former has implications for the climate impacts of sulfate aerosol, while the latter has implications for the tropospheric O 3 production rate in remote low-NO x environments. Using other ice core observations, we rule out drivers for these changes other than variability in extratropical oxidant (OH, O 3, RO 2, H 2O 2, and reactive halogens) concentrations. However, assuming OH, H 2O 2, and O 3 are the main oxidants contributing to sulfate formation, Monte Carlo box model simulations require a large (≥ 260%) increase in the O 3 / OH mole fraction ratio over the Southern Ocean in the early 19th century to match the sulfate Δ 17O record. This unlikely scenario points to a~deficiency in our understanding of sulfur chemistry and suggests other oxidants may play an important role in sulfate formation in the mid- to high-latitude marine boundary layer. The observed decrease in nitrate Δ 17O since the mid-19th century is most likely due to an increased importance of RO 2 over O 3 in NO x cycling and can be explained by a 60–90% decrease in the O 3 / RO 2 mole fraction ratio in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere NO x-source regions.

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Sofen, E. D. / Alexander, B. / Steig, E. J. / et al: WAIS Divide ice core suggests sustained changes in the atmospheric formation pathways of sulfate and nitrate since the 19th century in the extratropical Southern Hemisphere. 2014. Copernicus Publications.

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