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Positive but variable sensitivity of August surface ozone to large-scale warming in the southeast United States


Surface ozone, a major air pollutant toxic to humans and damaging to ecosystems1,2, is produced by the oxidation of volatile organic compounds in the presence of nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2) and sunlight. Climate warming may affect future surface ozone levels3,4,5,6 even in the absence of anthropogenic emission changes, but the direction of ozone change due to climate warming remains uncertain over the southeast US and other polluted forested areas3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Here we use observations and simulations to diagnose the sensitivity of August surface ozone to large-scale temperature variations in the southeast US during 1988–2011. We show that the enhanced biogenic emissions and the accelerated photochemical reaction rates associated with warmer temperatures both act to increase surface ozone. However, the sensitivity of surface ozone to large-scale warming is highly variable on interannual and interdecadal timescales owing to variation in regional ozone advection. Our results have important implications for the prediction and management of future ozone air quality.

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Figure 1: SEUS temperature variations on the interannual timescale.
Figure 2: Comparison of two ozone–temperature sensitivity definitions.
Figure 3: Ozone–temperature relationship over the SEUS.
Figure 4: IAV of the coupling between regional ozone advection and temperature.


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T-M.F. was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2014CB441303) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41222035, 41175101). F.P. was supported by the Harvard University Center for the Environment. J.M. was supported in part by the NOAA Climate Program Office (NA13OAR4310071). GEOS-Chem is managed by the Harvard University Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group with support from the NASA Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program. We thank M. Cooper and R. Martin of Dalhousie University for providing the 2.5° × 2° resolution MERRA data.

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T-M.F. designed the study, performed the simulations and analyses, and wrote the paper. Y.Z. assisted in the data analysis. F.P. and J.M. developed and implemented the new isoprene photochemistry scheme for GEOS-Chem. R.M.Y. developed the capability of driving GEOS-Chem with the MERRA data. All authors discussed the paper.

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Correspondence to Tzung-May Fu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Fu, TM., Zheng, Y., Paulot, F. et al. Positive but variable sensitivity of August surface ozone to large-scale warming in the southeast United States. Nature Clim Change 5, 454–458 (2015).

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