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J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2013 Mar;63(3):260-75.

The Southeastern Aerosol Research and Characterization (SEARCH) study: spatial variations and chemical climatology, 1999-2010.

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  • 1Envair, 526 Cornell Avenue, Albany, CA 94706, USA. cbenvair@pacbell.net


The Southeastern Aerosol Research and Characterization (SEARCH) study, which has been in continuous operation from 1999 to 2012, was implemented to investigate regional and urban air pollution in the southeastern United States. With complementary data from other networks, the SEARCH measurements provide key knowledge about long-term urban/nonurban pollution contrasts and regional climatology affecting inland locations and sites along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Analytical approaches ranging from comparisons of mean concentrations to the application of air mass trajectories and principal component analysis provide insight into local and area-wide pollution. Gases (carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and ammonia), fine particle mass concentration, and fine particle species concentrations (including sulfate, elementary carbon, and organic carbon) are affected by a combination of regional conditions and local emission sources. Urban concentrations in excess of regional baselines and intraurban variations of concentrations depend on source proximity, topography, and local meteorological processes. Regional-scale pollution events (95th percentile concentrations) involving more than 6 of the 8 SEARCH sites are rare (< 2% of days), while subregional events affecting 4-6 sites occur on approximately 10% of days. Regional and subregional events are characterized by widely coincident elevated concentrations of ozone, sulfate, and particulate organic carbon, driven by persistent synoptic-scale air mass stagnation and higher temperatures that favor formation of secondary species, mainly in the summer months. The meteorological conditions associated with regional stagnation do not favor long-range transport of polluted air masses during episodes. Regional and subregional pollution events frequently terminate with southward and eastward penetration of frontal systems, which may initially reduce air pollutant concentrations more inland than along the Gulf Coast.


Regional distribution of emission sources and synoptic-scale meteorological influences favoring stagnation lead to high regionwide pollution levels. The regional influence is greatest with secondary species, including ozone (03) particulate sulfate (SO4), and particulate organic matter, some of which is produced by atmospheric oxidation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation and anthropogenic sources. Other species, many of which are from primary emissions, are more influenced by local sources, especially within the Atlanta, GA, and Birmingham, AL, metropolitan areas. Limited measurements of modern and fossil total carbon point to the importance of biological and biogenic emissions in the Southeast.

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