1University of Arizona-Biosphere 2, 32540 S. Biosphere Road, Oracle, AZ 85623, USA
2University of Arizona, Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Soil, Water and Environmental Science, P.O. Box 210038, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0038, USA
3University of Arizona, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Biological Sciences East Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
4University of Arizona, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, P.O. Box 210088, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
5National Center for Atmospheric Research, Atmospheric Chemistry Division, 3450 Mitchell Lane, Boulder, CO 80301, USA
Abstract. The emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from plants impacts both climate and air quality by fueling atmospheric chemistry and by contributing to aerosol particles. While a variety of ecosystems have been investigated for VOC emissions, deserts remain essentially unstudied, partially because of their low biomass densities and water limitations. However, during the North American monsoon, a pronounced increase in rainfall from an extremely dry June (<5 mm precipitation) to a rainy July (>80 mm) occurs over large areas of the Sonoran desert in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. We present results from the CREosote ATmosphere Interactions through Volatile Emissions (CREATIVE 2009) field study in Southern Arizona aimed at quantifying emission rates of VOCs from creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) during the summer 2009 monsoon season. This species was chosen because of its vast distribution in North and South American deserts and because its resins have been reported to contain a rich set of VOCs. We observed a strong diurnal pattern with branch emissions and ambient concentrations of an extensive suite of VOCs with maxima in early afternoon. These include VOCs typically observed in forest sites (oxygenated VOCs and volatile isoprenoids) as well as a large number of other compounds, some of which have not been previously described from any plant including 1-chloro-2-methoxy-benzene and isobutyronitrile. Although generally considered to be derived from anthropogenic sources, we observed emissions of aromatic compounds including benzene, and a broad range of phenolics. Dimethyl sulfide emissions from creosotebush were higher than reported from any previously studied plant suggesting that terrestrial ecosystems should be reconsidered as an important source of this climatically important gas. We also present direct, primary emission measurements of isoprene and its apparent oxidation products methyl vinyl ketone, methacrolein, and 3-methyl furan (the later three compounds are typically assumed to form from secondary reactions within the atmosphere), as well as a group of compounds considered to be fatty acid oxidation products. These results suggest that one important function of some VOCs in creosotebush is as an antioxidant. We also find that emissions of nitriles from creosotebush represent an unaccounted for loss of nitrogen from arid ecosystems. Our results demonstrate the richness of creosotebush volatile emissions and highlight the need for further research into their atmospheric and ecological impacts.