Quantifying the contribution of long-range Saharan dust transport on particulate matter concentrations in Houston, Texas, using detailed elemental analysis.
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The trans-Atlantic transport of North African dust by summertime trade winds occasionally increases ambient particulate matter (PM) concentrations in Texas above air quality standards. Exemptions from such exceedences can be sought for episodic events that are beyond regulatory control by providing qualitative supportive information such as satellite images and back-trajectories. Herein we demonstrate that chemical mass balancing can successfully isolate, differentiate, and quantify the relative contributions from local and global mineral dust sources through detailed measurements of a wide suite of elements in ambient PM. We identified a major dust storm originating in Northwest Africa in mid-July 2008 which eventually impacted air quality in Houston during July 25, 26, and 27, 2008. Daily PM2.5 and PM10 samples were collected at two sites in Houston over a 2-week period encompassing the Saharan dust episode to quantify the transported mineral dust concentrations during this peak event. Average PM concentrations more than doubled during the Saharan intrusion compared with non-Saharan. Relative concentrations of several elements often associated with anthropogenic sources were significantly diluted by crustal minerals coincident with the large-scale Saharan dust intrusion. During non-Saharan days, local mineral dust sources including cement manufacturing and soil and road dust contributed in total 26% to PM2.5 mass and 50% to PM10 mass; during the three-day Saharan episode the total dust contribution increased to 64% for PM2.5 and 85% for PM10. Importantly, this approach was also able to determine that local emissions of crustal minerals dominated the period immediately following the Saharan dust episode: simple quantification of bulk crustal materials may have misappropriated this elevated PM to trans-Atlantic transport of Saharan dust.