International shipping is recognized as a pollution source of growing importance, in particular in the remote marine boundary layer. Nitrogen dioxide originating from ship emissions has previously been detected in satellite measurements. This study presents the first satellite measurements of formaldehyde (HCHO) linked to shipping emissions as derived from observations made by the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) instrument. We analyzed enhanced HCHO tropospheric columns from shipping emissions over the Indian Ocean between Sri Lanka and Sumatra. This region offers good conditions in term of plume detection with the GOME instrument as all ship tracks follow a single narrow track in the same east-west direction as used for the GOME pixel scanning. The HCHO signal alone is weak but could be clearly seen in the highpass filtered data. The line of enhanced HCHO in the Indian Ocean as seen in the 7-year composite of cloud free GOME observations clearly coincides with the distinct ship track corridor from Sri Lanka to Indonesia. The observed mean HCHO column enhancement over this shipping route is about 2.0x10(15) molec/cm(2). Compared to the simultaneously observed NO2 values over the shipping route, those of HCHO are substantially higher; also the HCHO peaks are found at larger distance from the ship routes. These findings indicate that direct emissions of HCHO or degradation of emitted NMHC cannot explain the observed enhanced HCHO values. One possible reason might be increased CH4 degradation due to enhanced OH concentrations related to the ship emissions, but this source is probably too weak to fully explain the observed values. The observed HCHO pattern also agrees qualitatively well with results from the coupled earth system model ECHAM5/MESSy applied to atmospheric chemistry (EMAC). However, the modelled HCHO values over the ship corridor are two times lower than in the GOME high-pass filtered data. This might indicate uncertainties in the satellite data and used emission inventories and/or that the in-plume chemistry taking place in the narrow path of the shipping lanes are not well represented at the rather coarse model resolution.
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