Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Caroline Womack

Research Interests

Air quality, tropospheric chemistry, cavity-enhanced spectroscopy, cavity ringdown spectroscopy, nitrogen oxides, aerosol optical properties

Current Research

My current research concerns the effect that reactive trace gases and aerosols can have on atmospheric chemistry, including the global climate and local air quality.

Wintertime particulate matter pollution: Salt Lake City, UT frequently experiences poor wintertime air quality due to its mountain terrain and meteorological episodes which trap pollutants close to the surface. In order to further understand what chemical mechanisms are involved in the buildup of aerosols in the area, I participated in the Utah Winter Fine Particulates Study (UWFPS) in Jan - Feb, 2017. We flew our custom built nitrogen oxides cavity ringdown spectrometer to measure NOx (a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion) and ozone (an air toxic) in a light aircraft throughout Salt Lake Valley area. Using this data set, we learned that the formation of ammonium nitrate aerosol is most sensitive to reductions in VOCs, not NOx as often assumed. This has implications for pollution control strategies in the valley. Read more about this campaign in our blog:

Biomass burning aerosol optical properties in controlled burns: Wildfires are increasing in intensity and frequency in the western U.S., and releasing increasing amounts of trace gas pollutants and aerosols. In order to better understand the effect these aerosols have on the climate, I participated in the first stage of the Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment (FIREX) at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab in Oct - Nov 2016. I was investigating the optical properties of biomass burning aerosol generated in controlled burns, using a custom build broadband cavity enhanced spectrometer.

Trace gas measurements in wildfires: During the summer of 2019, I flew the NOAA Airborne Cavity Enhanced Spectrometer (ACES), which measures NO2, glyoxal, methylglyoxal and HONO, on board the NASA DC-8 aircraft during the FIREX-AQ campaign. This campaign was designed to sample smoke from wildfires and agricultural prescribed fires with fully instrumented aircraft, mobile vans, and ground sites, in order to build a better understanding of wildfire emissions and how they transform downwind.