HCOOH in the Remote Atmosphere: Constraints from Atmospheric Tomography (ATom) Airborne Observations

Xin Chen, Dylan B. Millet, J. Andrew Neuman, Patrick R. Veres, Eric A. Ray, Róisín Commane, Bruce C. Daube, Kathryn McKain, Joshua P. Schwarz, Joseph M. Katich, Karl D. Froyd, Gregory P. Schill, Michelle J. Kim, John D. Crounse, Hannah M. Allen, Eric C. Apel, Rebecca S. Hornbrook, Donald R. Blake, Benjamin A. Nault, Pedro Campuzano-JostJose L. Jimenez, Jack E. Dibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Formic acid (HCOOH) is an important component of atmospheric acidity but its budget is poorly understood, with prior observations implying substantial missing sources. Here we combine pole-to-pole airborne observations from the Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom) with chemical transport model (GEOS-Chem CTM) and back trajectory analyses to provide the first global in-situ characterization of HCOOH in the remote atmosphere. ATom reveals sub-100 ppt HCOOH concentrations over most of the remote oceans, punctuated by large enhancements associated with continental outflow. Enhancements correlate with known combustion tracers and trajectory-based fire influences. The GEOS-Chem model underpredicts these in-plume HCOOH enhancements, but elsewhere we find no broad indication of a missing HCOOH source in the background free troposphere. We conclude that missing non-fire HCOOH precursors inferred previously are predominantly short-lived. We find indications of a wet scavenging underestimate in the model consistent with a positive HCOOH bias in the tropical upper troposphere. Observations reveal episodic evidence of ocean HCOOH uptake, which is well-captured by GEOS-Chem; however, despite its strong seawater undersaturation HCOOH is not consistently depleted in the remote marine boundary layer. Over fifty fire and mixed plumes were intercepted during ATom with widely varying transit times and source regions. HCOOH:CO normalized excess mixing ratios in these plumes range from 3.4 to >50 ppt/ppb CO and are often over an order of magnitude higher than expected primary emission ratios. HCOOH is thus a major reactive organic carbon reservoir in the aged plumes sampled during ATom, implying important missing pathways for in-plume HCOOH production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1436-1454
Number of pages19
JournalACS Earth and Space Chemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 17 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:


  • Atmospheric Tomography Mission
  • back trajectory
  • chemical transport model
  • deposition
  • fire
  • formic acid
  • iodide CIMS
  • remote atmosphere


Dive into the research topics of 'HCOOH in the Remote Atmosphere: Constraints from Atmospheric Tomography (ATom) Airborne Observations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this