Estimating European volatile organic compound emissions using satellite observations of formaldehyde from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument
Emission of non-methane Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) to the atmosphere stems from biogenic and human activities, and their estimation is difficult because of the many and not fully understood processes involved. In order to narrow down the uncertainty related to VOC emissions, which negatively reflects on our ability to simulate the atmospheric composition, we exploit satellite observations of formaldehyde (HCHO), an ubiquitous oxidation product of most VOCs, focusing on Europe. HCHO column observations from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) reveal a marked seasonal cycle with a summer maximum and winter minimum. In summer, the oxidation of methane and other long-lived VOCs supply a slowly varying background HCHO column, while HCHO variability is dominated by most reactive VOC, primarily biogenic isoprene followed in importance by biogenic terpenes and anthropogenic VOCs. The chemistry-transport model CHIMERE qualitatively reproduces the temporal and spatial features of the observed HCHO column, but display regional biases which are attributed mainly to incorrect biogenic VOC emissions, calculated with the Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosol from Nature (MEGAN) algorithm. These "bottom-up" or a-priori emissions are corrected through a Bayesian inversion of the OMI HCHO observations. Resulting "top-down" or a-posteriori isoprene emissions are lower than "bottom-up" by 40% over the Balkans and by 20% over Southern Germany, and higher by 20% over Iberian Peninsula, Greece and Italy. We conclude that OMI satellite observations of HCHO can provide a quantitative "top-down" constraint on the European "bottom-up" VOC inventories.