Carbon Monoxide in the Past and Modern Atmosphere

Chemical and photo-chemical processes in the atmosphere control the lifetimes of most atmospheric trace species (e.g., methane, aerosols, ozone-destroying CFCs) and have a profound influence on the Earth’s climate system. Current understanding of atmospheric chemistry is imperfect, and state-of-the-art models need realistic training data sets that describe atmospheric conditions that are very different from
today’s, such as the pre-industrial atmosphere.

One aspect of our research focuses on reconstructing past concentrations and stable isotopic composition of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is a reactive trace gas that plays a key role in atmospheric chemistry by being the main sink of tropospheric hydroxyl radicals (OH). OH is the main atmospheric oxidant and is responsible for removal of
most atmospheric trace species. Because of its strong interaction with OH, CO is a must-have component of any data set that attempts to fully characterize the chemical state of the atmosphere. Our prior work provided the first reliable record of CO concentrations for the last 60 years for the Northern Hemisphere. We are continuing our work on past CO in the Northern Hemisphere, with the hope of extending the CO concentration and stable isotope records to ≈1750 AD, before the start of the Industrial Period. We are also studying CO in in Antarctic ice with the aim to explore CO changes in the natural atmosphere as far back in time as 20,000 years.
Another related direction of research is improving the understanding of the carbon monoxide budget in the modern atmosphere, also through measurements of CO stable isotopes.

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This research direction has been supported by NSF Polar awards ARC-1406236 and PLR-1443267, as well as by the Packard Foundation. 

Related Publications

Faïn, X., Rhodes, R.H., Place, P., Petrenko, V.V., Fourteau, K., Chellman, N., Crosier, E., McConnell, J.R., Brook, E.J., Blunier, T., Legrand, M., Chappellaz, J. 2022. Northern Hemisphere atmospheric history of carbon monoxide since preindustrial times reconstructed from multiple Greenland ice cores. Climate of the Past, 18, 631 – 647,

Vimont, I.J., J.C. Turnbull, V.V. Petrenko, P.F. Place, C. Sweeney, N. Miles, S. Richardson, B.H. Vaughn, J.W.C. White. 2019. An improved estimate for the δ13 C and δ18 O signatures of carbon monoxide produced from atmospheric oxidation of volatile organic compounds. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19, 8547 – 8562.

Vimont, I.J., J.C. Turnbull, V.V. Petrenko, P.F. Place, A. Karion, N.L. Miles, S.J. Richardson, K. Gurney, R. Patarasuk, C. Sweeney, B. Vaughn, J.W.C. White. 2017. Carbon monoxide isotopic measurements in Indianapolis constrain urban source isotopic signatures and support mobile fossil fuel emissions as the dominant wintertime CO source. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. 5: 63.

Helmig, D., V.V. Petrenko, P. Martinerie, E. Witrant, T. Roeckmann, A. Zuiderweg, R. Holzinger, J. Hueber, C. Stephens, J. White, W. Sturges, A. Baker, T. Blunier, D. Etheridge, M. Rubino and P. Tans. 2014. Reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere 1950 – 2010 atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics,14, 1463–1483.

Petrenko, V.V., P. Martinerie, P. Novelli, D. M. Etheridge, I. Levin, Z. Wang, G. Petron, T. Blunier, J. Chappellaz, J. Kaiser, P. Lang, L. P. Steele, F. Vogel, M. A. Leist, J. Mak, R. L. Langenfelds, J. Schwander, J. P. Severinghaus, G. Forster, W. Sturges, M. Rubino, J.W.C. White. 2013. A 60 yr record of atmospheric carbon monoxide reconstructed from Greenland firn air. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 13, 7567 - 7585. 

Wang, Z., J. Chappellaz, P. Martinerie, K. Park, V.V. Petrenko, E. Witrant, T. Blunier, C. A. M. Brenninkmeijer, J. E. Mak. 2012. The isotopic record of Northern Hemisphere atmospheric carbon monoxide since 1950, implications for the CO budget. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics12, 4365–4377.