Formaldehyde…Not Just for Biology Class!

Chemical Importance of Formaldehyde (CH2O) Measurements for DC3
by Alan Fried (NCAR/EOL)

Formaldehyde (CH2O) is an intermediate oxidation product of most organic compounds that are injected into the atmosphere. As such, detailed measurement-model comparisons of CH2O can be used to indicate the presence of missing organic compounds that are not measured and/or not correctly modeled due to an incomplete hydrocarbon oxidation mechanism.

Alan Fried monitors formaldehyde aboard the NASA DC-8 during a DC3 test flight. Photo by Alison Rockwell NCAR/EOL.

When CH2O decomposes it produces ozone and hydrogen radicals, and thus any CH2O convected to the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere (UT/LS) by thunderstorms can be important source of these species. Presently, our knowledge of how and the extent to which soluble gases are transported to the UT/LS are not well understood. Formaldehyde is one such gas.  Our fast, accurate, and sensitive measurements of this gas on both the NSF/NCAR GV and the NASA DC-8 will provide much needed new measurements to test and modify existing theories of solubility and chemical transport mechanisms to the UT/LS.

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