A comparison of trajectory and air mass approaches to examine ozone variability

Robert E. Davis, Caroline P. Normile, Luke Sitka, David M. Hondula, David B. Knight, Stephen P. Gawtry, Philip J. Stenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Back trajectory analysis is a commonly-used tool for understanding how short-term variability in surface ozone depends on transport into a given location. Lesser-used but equally effective methods are air-mass based approaches that are primarily driven by changes in temperature and humidity conditions. We compare and combine these two fundamentally different approaches by evaluating daily near-surface afternoon warm-season ozone concentrations from 2001 to 2006 in and around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Analysis of variance is used to compare summer afternoon ozone levels between air masses as identified by the Spatial Synoptic Classification to clusters of 72-h back trajectories estimated by the HYSPLIT model. Ozone concentrations vary significantly across both air masses and trajectory clusters at all ozone monitors. Concentrations are highest for air masses characterized by dry, warm conditions and for air originating from the north and west of the study area or circulating over the mid-Atlantic region. In many cases, the interaction between synoptic types and back trajectory clusters produce results not evident from the examination of simple trajectories or air masses alone. For example, ozone concentrations on Moist Moderate days are 30 ppb higher when air parcels travel moderate distances into the Shenandoah Valley from the west than when they travel longer distances from the north or northeast. Combining air mass and trajectory approaches provides a more useful characterization of air quality conditions than either method alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-74
Number of pages11
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Air mass
  • Back trajectory
  • Shenandoah Valley
  • Synoptic climatology
  • Tropospheric ozone
  • Virginia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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