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Aerosol Measurements at South Pole: Climatology and Impact of Local Contamination

Category: Aerosol and Trace Gas Climatology

Volume: 16 | Issue: 3 | Pages: 855-872
DOI: 10.4209/aaqr.2015.05.0358
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Patrick Sheridan 1, Elisabeth Andrews1,2, Lauren Schmeisser1,2, Brian Vasel1, John Ogren1

  • 1 Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305, USA
  • 2 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder, CO 80309, USA


Climatologies of wind and aerosol measurements at SPO through 2014 are presented.
Winds at South Pole blow from the Clean Air Sector an average of 88% of the time.
Most aerosol measurements at SPO do not show statistically-significant trends.
Contamination of the Clean Air Sector was slightly higher during high-activity years.
A clear example of local aerosol contamination of the Clean Air Sector is discussed.


The Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO), part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, is located at one of the cleanest and most remote sites on earth.  NOAA has been making atmospheric baseline measurements at South Pole since the mid-1970's. The pristine conditions and high elevation make the South Pole a desirable location for many types of research projects and since the early 2000's there have been multiple construction projects to accommodate both a major station renovation and additional research activities and their personnel. The larger population and increased human activity at the station, located in such close proximity to the global baseline measurements conducted at the ARO, calls into question the potential effects of local contamination of the long-term background measurements. In this work, the long-term wind and aerosol climatologies were updated and analyzed for trends. Winds blow toward the ARO from the Clean Air Sector ~88% of the time and while there is some year-to-year variability in this number, the long-term wind speed and direction measurements at South Pole have not changed appreciably in the last 35 years. Several human activity markers including station population, aircraft flights and fuel usage were used as surrogates for local aerosol emissions; peak human activity (and thus likely local emissions) occurred in the 2006 and 2007 austral summer seasons. The long-term aerosol measurements at ARO do not peak during these seasons, suggesting that the quality control procedures in place to identify and exclude continuous sources of local contamination are working and that the NSF’s sector management plan for the Clean Air Sector is effective. No significant trends over time were observed in particle number concentration, aerosol light scattering coefficient, or any aerosol parameter except scattering Ångström exponent, which showed a drop of ~0.02 yr–1 over the 36-year record. The effect of discrete local contamination events in the Clean Air Sector is discussed using one well-documented example.


Aerosol monitoring Clean Air Sector Wind sector screening

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