Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Research article
14 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 14 Jan 2014

Combining airborne gas and aerosol measurements with HYSPLIT: a visualization tool for simultaneous evaluation of air mass history and back trajectory consistency

S. Freitag, A. D. Clarke, S. G. Howell, V. N. Kapustin, T. Campos, V. L. Brekhovskikh, and J. Zhou

Abstract. The history of air masses is often investigated using backward trajectories to gain knowledge about processes along the air parcel path as well as possible source regions. Here, we describe a refined approach that incorporates airborne gas, aerosol, and environmental data into back trajectories and show how this technique allows for simultaneous evaluation of air mass history and back trajectory reliability without the need to calculate trajectory errors.

We use the HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model and add a simple semi-automated computing routine to facilitate high-frequency coverage of back trajectories initiated along free tropospheric (FT) flight tracks and profiles every 10 s. We integrate our in situ physiochemical data by color-coding each of these trajectories with its corresponding in situ tracer values measured at the back trajectory start points along the flight path. The unique color for each trajectory aids assessment of trajectory reliability through the visual clustering of air mass pathways of similar coloration. Moreover, marked changes in trajectories associated with marked changes evident in measured physiochemical or thermodynamic properties of an air mass add credence to trajectories. This is particularly true when these air mass properties are linked to trajectory features characteristic of recognized sources or processes. This visual clustering of air mass pathways is of particular value for large-scale 3-D flight tracks common to aircraft experiments where air mass features of interest are often spatially distributed and temporally separated.

The cluster-visualization tool used here reveals that most FT back trajectories with pollution signatures measured in the central equatorial Pacific reach back to sources on the South American continent over 10 000 km away and 12 days back in time, e.g., the Amazonian basin. We also demonstrate the distinctions in air mass properties between these and trajectories that penetrate deep convection in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. Additionally, for the first time we show consistency of modeled precipitation along back trajectories with scavenging signatures in the aerosol measured for these trajectories.