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Ground-level ozone influenced by circadian control of isoprene emissions


The volatile organic compound isoprene is produced by many plant species, and provides protection against biotic and abiotic stresses1. Globally, isoprene emissions from plants are estimated to far exceed anthropogenic emissions of volatile organic compounds2. Once in the atmosphere, isoprene reacts rapidly with hydroxyl radicals3 to form peroxy radicals, which can react with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone4. Here, we use canopy-scale measurements of isoprene fluxes from two tropical ecosystems in Malaysia—a rainforest and an oil palm plantation—and three models of atmospheric chemistry to explore the effects of isoprene fluxes on ground-level ozone. We show that isoprene emissions in these ecosystems are under circadian control on the canopy scale, particularly in the oil palm plantation. As a result, these ecosystems emit less isoprene than present emissions models predict. Using local-, regional- and global-scale models of atmospheric chemistry and transport, we show that accounting for circadian control of isoprene emissions brings model predictions of ground-level ozone into better agreement with measurements, especially in isoprene-sensitive regions of the world.

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Figure 1: The circadian control of isoprene emissions on the landscape scale mediates ground-level ozone concentrations on all scales.
Figure 2: Effect of including circadian control of isoprene emissions on model–observation fit for ozone in the southeastern USA.


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We thank the Malaysian and Sabah Governments for their permission to conduct research in Malaysia; the Malaysian Meteorological Department for access to the Bukit Atur Global Atmosphere Watch station; Wilmar International for access to and logistical support at their PPB Oil Palms Bhd Sabahmas Estate; W. Sinun of Yayasan Sabah and his staff, G. Reynolds of the Royal Society’s South East Asian Rainforest Research Programme and his staff, and N. Chappell and B. Davison of Lancaster University, for logistical support at the Danum Valley Field Centre. The work was financially supported by the Natural Environment Research Council grants NE/D002117/1 and NE/E011179/1. This is paper number 507 of the Royal Society’s South East Asian Rainforest Research Programme.

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C.N.H. led the project; C.N.H. and A.R.M. devised the research, obtained financial support and wrote the paper; K.A., A.B., A.G., B.L., P.K.M., E.N., T.A.M.P., A.C.R. and O.W. carried out research; all authors discussed results, analysed data and commented on the paper.

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Correspondence to C. N. Hewitt, B. Langford, A. R. MacKenzie, P. K. Misztal or M. Possell.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Hewitt, C., Ashworth, K., Boynard, A. et al. Ground-level ozone influenced by circadian control of isoprene emissions. Nature Geosci 4, 671–674 (2011).

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