Formation of ozone and organic aerosol in continental atmospheres depends on whether isoprene emitted by vegetation is oxidized by the high-NOx pathway (where peroxy radicals react with NO) or by low-NOx pathways (where peroxy radicals react by alternate channels, mostly with HO2). We used mixed layer observations from the SEAC4RS aircraft campaign over the Southeast US to test the ability of the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model at different grid resolutions (0.25° × 0.3125°, 2° × 2.5°, 4° × 5°) to simulate this chemistry under high-isoprene, variable-NOx conditions. Observations of isoprene and NOx over the Southeast US show a negative correlation, reflecting in part the spatial segregation of emissions; this negative correlation is captured in the model at 0.25° × 0.3125° resolution but not at coarser resolutions. As a result, less isoprene oxidation takes place by the high-NOx pathway in the model at 0.25° × 0.3125° resolution (54 %) than at coarser resolution (59 %). The cumulative probability distribution functions (CDFs) of NOx, isoprene, and ozone concentrations show little difference across model resolutions and good agreement with observations, while formaldehyde is overestimated at coarse resolution because excessive isoprene oxidation takes place by the high-NOx pathway (which has high formaldehyde yield). Correlations of simulated vs. observed concentrations do not improve with grid resolution because finer modes of variability are intrinsically more difficult to capture. Higher model resolution leads to decreased conversion of NOx to organic nitrates and increased conversion to nitric acid, with total reactive nitrogen oxides (NOy) changing little across model resolutions. In the lower free troposphere, model output is similarly insensitive to grid resolution, indicating that the effect on export of ozone and NOx is small. The overall low sensitivity of modeled concentrations to grid resolution implies that coarse resolution is adequate when modeling regional boundary layer chemistry for global applications.
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