© Author(s) 2015. Ground-based measurements of atmospheric trace gas species and criteria pollutants are essential for understanding emissions dynamics across space and time. Gas composition in the lower 50 m of the atmosphere has the greatest direct impacts on human health as well as ecosystem processes; hence data at this level are necessary for addressing carbon-cycle- and public-health-related questions. However, such surface data are generally associated with stationary measurement towers, where spatial representation is limited due to the high cost of establishing and maintaining an extensive network of measurement stations. We describe here a compact mobile laboratory equipped to provide high-precision, high-frequency, continuous, on-road synchronous measurements of CO2, CO, CH4, H2O, NOx, O3, aerosol, meteorological, and geospatial position data. The mobile laboratory has been deployed across the western USA. In addition to describing the vehicle and its capacity, we present data that illustrate the use of the laboratory as a powerful tool for investigating the spatial structure of urban trace gas emissions and criteria pollutants at spatial scales ranging from single streets to whole ecosystem and regional scales. We assess the magnitude of known point sources of CH4 and also identify fugitive urban CH4 emissions. We illustrate how such a mobile laboratory can be used to better understand emissions dynamics and quantify emissions ratios associated with trace gas emissions from wildfire incidents. Lastly, we discuss additional mobile laboratory applications in health and urban metabolism.