TitleVapor hydrogen and oxygen isotopes reflect water of combustion in the urban atmosphere.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsGorski, G, Strong, C, Good, SP, Bares, R, Ehleringer, JR, Bowen, GJ
JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Date Published2015 Mar 17

Anthropogenic modification of the water cycle involves a diversity of processes, many of which have been studied intensively using models and observations. Effective tools for measuring the contribution and fate of combustion-derived water vapor in the atmosphere are lacking, however, and this flux has received relatively little attention. We provide theoretical estimates and a first set of measurements demonstrating that water of combustion is characterized by a distinctive combination of H and O isotope ratios. We show that during periods of relatively low humidity and/or atmospheric stagnation, this isotopic signature can be used to quantify the concentration of water of combustion in the atmospheric boundary layer over Salt Lake City. Combustion-derived vapor concentrations vary between periods of atmospheric stratification and mixing, both on multiday and diurnal timescales, and respond over periods of hours to variations in surface emissions. Our estimates suggest that up to 13% of the boundary layer vapor during the period of study was derived from combustion sources, and both the temporal pattern and magnitude of this contribution were closely reproduced by an independent atmospheric model forced with a fossil fuel emissions data product. Our findings suggest potential for water vapor isotope ratio measurements to be used in conjunction with other tracers to refine the apportionment of urban emissions, and imply that water vapor emissions associated with combustion may be a significant component of the water budget of the urban boundary layer, with potential implications for urban climate, ecohydrology, and photochemistry.

Alternate JournalProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
PubMed ID25733906
PubMed Central IDPMC4371996