Source reconciliation of atmospheric dust causing visibility impairment in Class I areas of the western United States

Academic Article


  • Aerosol data from the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments IMPROVE) network, air mass backward trajectories, land use maps, soil characteristics maps, diagnostic ratios of elemental composition, and multivariate linear regression were utilized as part of a semiquantitative analysis. The purpose of the analysis was to determine the types of dust-causing events that contribute to low visibility at a given site when the sum of extinction from coarse mass (CM) and fine soil (FS) was larger than any other aerosol component and the reconstructed aerosol extinction coefficient was among the 20% highest (calculated on a calendar year basis) for that site. For these "worst dust days," the above tools were used to ascribe the cause of low visibility to one of the following types of events: (1) transcontinental transport of dust originating from Asia; (2) windblown dust events from sources located nearby the site and; (3) transport of windblown dust from sources upwind of the site. Depending on the weight of evidence, a low or high level of confidence was associated with the assignment of one of these three events. Absence of convincing evidence resulted in ascribing the worst dust day to "undetermined events." Of the 610 worst dust days over the 2001-2003 period, 51% were associated with one of the three event types with high confidence and an additional 30% were accounted for with low confidence. Of the 496 worst dust days associated with an event (either low or high confidence), Asian dust was the assigned event on 55 days (for 2001-2002), locally generated windblown dust on 201 days, and transport from upwind source areas susceptible to wind erosion on 240 days. Events associated with windblown episodes from source areas in the United States and Mexico exhibited the highest dust concentrations. Asian dust events were associated with lower dust concentrations and a larger FS-to-CM ratio. Some variations between Asian dust and continental North American dust were observed in organic matter (OMC), black carbon (LAC), and nitrate (NO3-) content. None of the tools used in this study was adequate for identifying events associated with mechanically released dust by anthropogenic activities including, agriculture, construction and motor vehicle travel on paved and unpaved roads. Some of the worst dust days may have been caused by these types of activities, especially in central Arizona and northern and Southern California, where the fraction of undetermined events was higher than in other regions within the western United States. All in all, the methods and results of this study can help improve the performance of large-scale dust emission models and provide insight into the distribution of the types of events that cause dust resultant haze in relatively remote areas of the western United States. Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Kavouras IG; Etyemezian V; DuBois DW; Xu J; Pitchford M
  • Volume

  • 114
  • Issue

  • 2