Measurements of nitrogen oxides at the tropopause: Attribution to convection and correlation with lightning

Dominique P. Jeker, Leonhard Pfister, Anne M. Thompson, Dominik Brunner, Dennis J. Boccippio, Kenneth E. Pickering, Heini Wernli, Yutaka Kondo, Johannes Staehelin

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33 Scopus citations


NOx (NO and NO2) and ozone were measured on 98 flights during August to November 1997 in the framework of the projects Pollution From Aircraft Emissions in the North Atlantic Flight Corridor (POLINAT 2) and Subsonic Assessment Ozone and Nitrogen Oxide Experiment (SONEX). The fully automated measurement system Nitrogen Oxides and Ozone Along Air Routes (NOXAR) was permanently installed aboard an inservice Swissair B-747 airliner operating in the North Atlantic Flight Corridor. Below the tropopause, predominantly over the U.S. east coast, the patchy occurrence of NOx enhancements up to 3000 parts per trillion by volume (pptv) was observed frequently and led to a lognormal probability density function of NOx. These plumes extend over several hundred kilometers. In three case studies the origin of such plumes was investigated using back trajectories, satellite infrared images, and lightning observations from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) satellite instrument. In the case of frontal activity above the continental United States, the location of NOx plumes was explained with maps of convective influence. In another case, NOx seems to have been produced by lightning in a marine thunderstorm over the eastern Atlantic. Lightning activity triggered over the warm Gulf Stream is found to be an important source for the regional upper tropospheric NOx budget, at least for the time period considered. With a method that we call "lightning tracing" we show for the first time that (in some cases) the number of lightning flashes, accumulated along back trajectories, was proportional to the NOx concentrations observed several hundred kilometers downwind of the anvil outflows. We suggest that mixing processes in convective clouds reduce the initially highly heterogeneous NOx field rapidly, but that following this phase, the structure of large-scale plumes remains stable over relatively long periods of time (as they decay).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1999JD901053
Pages (from-to)3679-3700
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue numberD3
StatePublished - Feb 16 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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