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NOAA, partners find about 98% decline in VOCs concentrations in LA Basin over last 50 years despite 3x increase in use of gasoline and diesel

A scatter plot of CO, as a tracer for pollution, versus CO2, as a tracer for the amount of combustion, for 2002 and 2010. Even though the CO2 enhancements over background were comparable in the two years, about 25 ppm in 2002 and 35 ppm in 2010, the ∆CO/∆CO2 ratio for this flight track segment decreased from 24.5 ppbv/ppmv to 10.7 ppbv/ppmv. Source: Warneke et al. Click to enlarge.

In California’s Los Angeles Basin, levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) pollutants have decreased by about 98% since the 1960s, even as area residents now burn approximately three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel. Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the concentration of VOCs dropped by half, according to a new study by NOAA scientists and colleagues, published in the AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research.

VOCs, primarily emitted from the tailpipes of vehicles, are a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone which, at high levels, can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants. The magnitude of the drop in VOC levels was surprising, even to researchers who expected some kind of decrease resulting from California’s longtime efforts to control vehicle pollution.

The reason is simple: cars are getting cleaner. Even on the most polluted day during a research mission in 2010, we measured half the VOCs we had seen just eight years earlier. The difference was amazing.

—lead author Carsten Warneke, Ph.D., Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder

The 98% drop in VOCs in the last 50 years does not mean that ozone levels have dropped that steeply; the air chemistry that leads from VOCs to ozone is more complex than that. Ozone pollution in the Los Angeles Basin has decreased since the 1960s, but levels still don’t meet ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Requirements for catalytic converters, use of reformulated fuels less prone to evaporate, and improved engine efficiency of new vehicles have all likely contributed to overall declines in vehicle-related pollution, including VOCs.

For the new study, Warneke and his colleagues evaluated Los Angeles air quality measurements from three sources: NOAA-led research campaigns in 2002 and 2010, which involved extensive aircraft sampling of the atmosphere; datasets from other intensive field campaigns reaching back five decades; and air quality measurements from the California Air Resources Board monitoring sites, which reach back two to three decades.

Detailed VOC measurements from two aircraft campaigns in the LA basin in 2002 and 2010 were used to show that VOC emissions have been reduced by about a factor of two in those eight years. Literature data and data from the monitoring network in the LA basin were used to show that the mixing ratios of VOCs and CO have declined almost two orders of magnitude since 1960 at an average annual rate of about 7.5% even though the fuel sale in California increased by about a factor of three over the same time period.

VOC/CO ratios have been remarkable constant in this time period despite the introduction of the catalyst and reformulated and oxygenated gasoline. This indicates that the main VOC source in the LA basin is likely gasoline vehicle emission. Ethane and propane have decreased more slowly than all other VOCs indicating that after the large reduction in vehicle emissions other sources such as the use and production of natural gas can have a significant contribution to ambient mixing ratios.

A comparison with London found that VOC mixing ratios in 2008 are at about the same level in both cities, but in London a much stronger decrease from higher mixing ratios in 1998 has led to the current mixing ratios. This suggests that the early implementation of VOC emission reduction strategies in California clearly has led to improved air quality earlier on compared to London.

—Warneke et al.

Another recent study led by CIRES and NOAA researchers and published online 4 August in Geophysical Research Letters has shown that one VOC, ethanol, is increasing in the atmosphere, consistent with its increasing use in transportation fuels.

Warneke said that he would expect the decrease in emissions of VOCs by cars to continue in Los Angeles, given that engine efficiency continues to improve and older, more polluting vehicles drop out of the fleet of all vehicles on the road.


  • Warneke, C., J. A. de Gouw, J. S. S. Holloway, J. Peischl, T. B. B. Ryerson, E. L. Atlas, D. R. Blake, M. K. Trainer, and D. D. D. Parrish (2012), Multi-Year Trends in Volatile Organic Compounds in Los Angeles, California: Five Decades of Decreasing Emissions, J. Geophys. Res., doi: 10.1029/2012JD017899, in press



This report only confirms what genuine environmetnalists are saying. America has fought the pollution wars for forty plus years, and the job is about finished, even in one of the two remaining metropolitan pockets of pollution. In short, we Americans have won, by dint of hard work and actualy doing it; and not by just spewing demagogic baloney about it.

To read the drivel produced by the professional propaganda arms of the Green movement, you would think the situation is always bad and inevitably getting worse. It is heresy to admit than any progress is possible.

We must accept the dogma that the Greenie Doom as prophesied by the Green religious profits, is still occurring. All we can do is send money to fund their attendance at the biannual religious revivals at exotic locations of maximum pollution like Rio, Bali, etc. and hope to slow its happening. And of course to send more extorted money to the religious zealots at CARB and assorted other Green bureaucracies.

The reality is that even in the accident of geography and air inversions that is the Los Angeles basin, the Air is clearing even without the latest mad AB32 scheme from the CARBite idiots like Sister Mary Nickles and Dr. Quack, to protect their high paid and well pensioned sinecures.


LA and California may be winning the war on some pollution. They were the first to apply serious containment programs and they deserve the applaud.


You had better share your superior knowledge with the medical profession then.
According to them air pollution still kills tens of thousands a year.
I have listed some of the studies in another thread, so here is just one of them:

'Fine atmospheric particles — smaller than one-thirtieth of the diameter of a human hair — were identified more than 20 years ago as the most lethal of the widely dispersed air pollutants in the United States. Linked to both heart and lung disease, they kill an estimated 50,000 Americans each year. But more recently, scientists have been puzzled to learn that a subset of these particles, called secondary organic aerosols, has a greater total mass, and is thus more dangerous, than previously understood.'


Perhaps you would care to link the medical studies which indicate no deaths from air pollution.
That will be difficult, as there aren't any.

Stop making up 'facts'.

Kit P

“Stop making up 'facts'. ”

Davemart consider for the moment that you could be spreading organized lies.

It is an interesting point that D has. We have won the battle in the US with air pollutions yet some are still spreading fear based on 40 year old data. The science show that there is a threshold of harm and air quality is much better that that level.


The polution fanatics do not understand numbers.

Every time you reduce pollution by 25% the gain is smaller, sacred maybe, but smaller just the same.


Strangely, Kit P's threshold of harm appears to be far below the levels which can be tested against evidence.  His position is dogmatic, not factual... but everyone knew that already.


Excuse me, that should be far ABOVE, not below.


The proof is in the air.
I was born and rasied in the LA area in the 70's
on the 210 freeway in Monrovia there where many days when you could not see the foothills 2 miles away. Today as I type this I see can the same foothills 40 miles away
So for all you Nay-sayers the air is visablly cleaner and my eyes dont burn so quit passing on the untruths and get outside and dont see the air pollution for yourself's.


This article is about the success of *California’s* longtime efforts to control vehicle pollution so why is D saying "America" has fought the pollution wars for forty plus years, and the job is about finished?

America has 2 vehicle emissions standards: One for California and one for the rest of the country. California is winning the pollution wars BECAUSE the Green movement you deride forced it to bring in the tougher standard, the rest of "America" will not win the pollution wars until it does the same.

Kit P

I wonder if ai_vin is as ignorant of Canada as he is in the US.

Every car I have bought since 1975 met California pollution control requirements. When I was stationed in Long Beach in 1971, I did not have to back fit my ‘64 Chevy because I bought it back east and I was exempt because I was in the navy. I traded the car to my father who did have to install pollutions stuff.

It has been twenty years since I lived in California. Back then if you lived in a non-attainment area, every car needed a SMOG check yearly. Since I lived places in California that had good air quality, we did not need a SMOG check. Also our gas pumps did not have vacuum rigs to capture fugitive VOC.

“Strangely, Kit P's threshold”

Actually they are not mine, they are the regulatory limits and they are not arbitrary but science based. Criteria for PM2.5 is relatively new. When the science indicated that the limit should be lower, we lowered during the Bush administration and we did things like remove sulfur from diesel fuel.

If science does not interfere with E-P’s dogma, you can check the facts here:

With an Air Qiality Index (AQI) less than 50, PM2.5 is will below the threshold of harm. In the moderated range, at 70-80 AQI but some areas in the non-attainment category because that is where we start to see harm. Central LA is showing 62 today during a heat wave that is sending power demand through the roof. It is a not touch day for power producers.

Except for a few places with wild fires, all American have are enjoying clean air. To put it in perspective a PM2.5 of 50, not too many years ago, 100 was a good summer day in LA but some cities in China are at 3000.

“The proof is in the air.”

Lance is correct and it is not just California. Few years ago we took our youngest son on a trip past the small Ohio town where I was born. You can drive from Cleveland west past Chicago and only see sparkling skies. Gone are the black skies over steel mills and NOx and SOx plumes from coal power plants.


It's just like what ol' Ronald Reagan said when he was California governor: "Cars don't pollute. Trees pollute."

Seriously, he said that.


It is possible every car Kit P has bought since 1975 met California pollution control requirements because he lives in one of the states where California pollution control requirements were adopted. (some more recently than others) But as I said there are still 2 standards in America.

Due to its preexisting standards and particularly severe motor vehicle air pollution problems in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the U.S. state of California has special dispensation from the federal government to promulgate its own automobile emissions standards. Other states may choose to follow either the national standard or the stricter California standards. States adopting the California standards include Arizona (2012 model year),[1] Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico (2011 model year), New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.[2][3] Such states are frequently referred to as "CARB states" in automotive discussions because the regulations are defined by the California Air Resources Board.

The EPA has adopted the California emissions standards as a national standard by the 2016 model year[4] and is collaborating with California regulators on stricter national emissions standards for model years 2017–2025.[5]

Kit P

“Trees pollute ”


Home trees do you own? I live in a place called Forest and have about 40 large trees in my yard. Trees are very dirty and release lots of VOCs.

There is a reason I think that many who call themselves environmentalist are idiots. They live in a city surrounded by millions of cars and not very many trees. They want a national standard to fix their self created problem without checking to see that we have already fixed the problem.

I certainly do not have a problem regulating stationary and mobile pollution sources. I have a problem with those who use are not interested in solving environmental problems but use them to promote a political agenda.

Some people are compelled to take care of other people while demonstrating a complete lack of ability to take care of themselves. I have clean air, low taxes, little crime, and good schools.

Imposing California standards will not make California like where I live.


The pollution standards are unified across the United States, now. The only thing that California did, was to push the start and effective dates for pollution controls earlier than the same and matching federal standards, were to be implemented and go into effect.

The Feds had to give sufficient time for the factories to be built to conform for 300 million Amricans. California took the first few off the assembly lines. Significantly, the Federal effective dates never had to be extended, but sometimes California dates had to be moved out, because it was impossible to comply.

But that was the situation back then, over twenty years ago. The matching Federal standards have now long been in place. The 50 State compliant car is what is built, and sold everywhere in the USA, and has been for decades. That is everywhere, for all but for 'educated' gentlemen who think there are not just 50, but 57 States.

Threatened with being declared surplus and no longer needed, the CARBite idiots accepted the offer of the EEVVIILL "Big Auto" to tighten toxic pollution controls to the last possible level of pristine cleanliness, equivalent to, and actually better than the emissions standards set for BEVs.

But instead of accepting the bargain offered in trade for removing new rediculous CO2 standards in a continent that produces no net CO2, already, they double-crossed everyone, and demanded both in their proposed LEV III pollution regulations for adoption sometime in the next decade. Just co-incidently, monitoring that proposed regulation will continue to justify their JOBS & PENSIONs.

Now I actually support letting Detroit implement their R&D cleanup technology to produce absolutely pristene ICE engines. Why not employ the technology that we demanded that they develop, even though no one ever expected it to become so good? I support tightening to T2B2 simply because we can.

Doing so ensures that whatever growth in numbers does, we will not lose the clean AIR, we worked so hard to, and have largely, achieved.

It removes one of the justifications to prematurely change from Oil to the next technology. Fracking removes another premature reason as well, as does the massive new finds of "fossil" reserves. The Russians are proving that their "Abiotic" Oil theories are true, as they continue to develop and obtain oil production from fields, that can't possibly exist, except that they do.

The combination also undermines and hastens the coming collapse of the OPEC Cartel established by kleptocratic socialist regimes with Oil reserves, who have distorted the World's economies for forty plus years.

But first things first, let us all plan the National Holiday, VE Day, (Victory for the Environment), that we should celebrate, when the last two metro areas achieve Clean Air just as the rest of America has already done.

This task for forty plus years is at least as significant as the Lunar Landings and decade long Project Apollo. Its success, as an example of American Exceptionalism, and a toxic emission model for the rest of the World, should be heralded far and wide, as well.


in a continent that produces no net CO2

Since when?

In 1998 an article published in Science magazine claimed that the North American continent is a huge carbon sink. The authors found, essentially, that the carbon dioxide content of air blowing onto our west coast is higher than that of air blowing out to sea from our east coast. Somehow, the authors conclude, in crossing the continent, the prevailing westerlies must run across massive carbon dioxide absorbers, perhaps growing forests. And of course the AGW denialists have been parroting it ever since. The problem is the study was based on incomplete data/limited sampling.

Biomass growth can be measured and later studies disproved the earier one.

In any case terrestrial carbon sinks are dependant on the biomass getting the right amount of water during the growing season and as the second year of drought in America shows. . .

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