Global inorganic nitrate production mechanisms: Comparison of a global model with nitrate isotope observations

Becky Alexander, Tomas Sherwen, Christopher D Holmes, Jenny A Fisher, Qianjie Chen, Mat J Evans, Prasad Kasibhatla

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


The formation of inorganic nitrate is the main sink for nitrogen oxides (NOx DNOCNO2). Due to the importance of NOx for the formation of tropospheric oxidants such as the hydroxyl radical (OH) and ozone, understanding the mechanisms and rates of nitrate formation is paramount for our ability to predict the atmospheric lifetimes of most reduced trace gases in the atmosphere. The oxygen isotopic composition of nitrate (117O(nitrate)) is determined by the relative importance of NOx sinks and thus can provide an observational constraint for NOx chemistry. Until recently, the ability to utilize 117O(nitrate) observations for this purpose was hindered by our lack of knowledge about the oxygen isotopic composition of ozone (117O.O3/). Recent and spatially widespread observations of 117O.O3/ motivate an updated comparison of modeled and observed 117O(nitrate) and a reassessment of modeled nitrate formation pathways. Model updates based on recent laboratory studies of heterogeneous reactions render dinitrogen pentoxide (N2O5) hydrolysis as important as NO2 COH (both 41 %) for global inorganic nitrate production near the surface (below 1 km altitude). All other nitrate production mechanisms individually represent less than 6% of global nitrate production near the surface but can be dominant locally. Updated reaction rates for aerosol uptake of NO2 result in significant reduction of nitrate and nitrous acid (HONO) formed through this pathway in the model and render NO2 hydrolysis a negligible pathway for nitrate formation globally. Although photolysis of aerosol nitrate may have implications for NOx , HONO, and oxidant abundances, it does not significantly impact the relative importance of nitrate formation pathways. Modeled 117O(nitrate) (28:64:5 ) compares well with the average of a global compilation of observations (27:65:0 ) when assuming 117O.O3/D26 , giving confidence in the model's representation of the relative importance of ozone versus HOx (DOHCHO2 CRO2) in NOx cycling and nitrate formation on the global scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38592020
Pages (from-to)3859-3877
Number of pages19
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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