Isoprene oxidation schemes vary greatly among gas-phase chemical mechanisms, with potentially significant ramifications for air quality modeling and interpretation of satellite observations in biogenic-rich regions. In this study, in situ observations from the 2013 SENEX mission are combined with a constrained O-D photochemical box model to evaluate isoprene chemistry among five commonly used gas-phase chemical mechanisms: CBO5, CB6r2, MCMv3.2, MCMv3.3.1, and a recent version of GEOS-Chem. Mechanisms are evaluated and inter-compared with respect to formaldehyde (HCHO), a high-yield product of isoprene oxidation. Though underestimated by all considered mechanisms, observed HCHO mixing ratios are best reproduced by MCMv3.3.1 (normalized mean bias = -15%), followed by GEOS-Chem (-17%), MCMv3.2 (-25%), CB6r2 (-32%) and CB05 (-33%). Inter-comparison of HCHO production rates reveals that major restructuring of the isoprene oxidation scheme in the Carbon Bond mechanism increases HCHO production by only approx. 5% in CB6r2 relative to CBO5, while further refinement of the complex isoprene scheme in the Master Chemical Mechanism increases HCHO production by approx. 16% in MCMv3.3.1 relative to MCMv3.2. The GEOS-Chem mechanism provides a good approximation of the explicit isoprene chemistry in MCMv3.3.1 and generally reproduces the magnitude and source distribution of HCHO production rates. We analytically derive improvements to the isoprene scheme in CB6r2 and incorporate these changes into a new mechanism called CB6r2-UMD, which is designed to preserve computational efficiency. The CB6r2-UMD mechanism mimics production of HCHO in MCMv3.3.1 and demonstrates good agreement with observed mixing ratios from SENEX (-14%). Improved simulation of HCHO also impacts modeled ozone: at approx. 0.3 ppb NO, the ozone production rate increases approx. 3% between CB6r2 and CB6r2-UMD, and rises another approx. 4% when HCHO is constrained to match observations.
Atmospheric Environment (ISSN 1352-2310); 164; 325-336