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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Feb 5;110(6):2035-40. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212386110. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Detection of iodine monoxide in the tropical free troposphere.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0215, USA.


Atmospheric iodine monoxide (IO) is a radical that catalytically destroys heat trapping ozone and reacts further to form aerosols. Here, we report the detection of IO in the tropical free troposphere (FT). We present vertical profiles from airborne measurements over the Pacific Ocean that show significant IO up to 9.5 km altitude and locate, on average, two-thirds of the total column above the marine boundary layer. IO was observed in both recent deep convective outflow and aged free tropospheric air, suggesting a widespread abundance in the FT over tropical oceans. Our vertical profile measurements imply that most of the IO signal detected by satellites over tropical oceans could originate in the FT, which has implications for our understanding of iodine sources. Surprisingly, the IO concentration remains elevated in a transition layer that is decoupled from the ocean surface. This elevated concentration aloft is difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of iodine lifetimes and may indicate heterogeneous recycling of iodine from aerosols back to the gas phase. Chemical model simulations reveal that the iodine-induced ozone loss occurs mostly above the marine boundary layer (34%), in the transition layer (40%) and FT (26%) and accounts for up to 20% of the overall tropospheric ozone loss rate in the upper FT. Our results suggest that the halogen-driven ozone loss in the FT is currently underestimated. More research is needed to quantify the widespread impact that iodine species of marine origin have on free tropospheric composition, chemistry, and climate.

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