Coupling Regional and Urban processes: Effects on Air Quality

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Air pollution is the environmental factor with the greatest impact on human health in Europe. Despite substantial emission controls, the complexities of the processes linking emissions and air quality, means that substantial proportions - 80% and 97%, respectively, of the population in Europe lives in cities with levels of particulate matter (PM) and ozone (O3) exceeding EU limit and target values. The two pollutants are estimated to contribute 350,000 and 200,000 premature deaths across Europe. NERC's strategy document states: "In the UK, air pollution costs the economy £15 billion every year in damage to human health, not including the cost of damage to our environment and crops." Understanding the key processes driving air quality across the relevant spatial scales, especially during pollution exceedances and episodes, is essential to provide effective prediction for both policymakers and the public. It is particularly important for policy regulators to understand the drivers of local air quality that can be regulated by national policies versus the contribution from regional pollution transported from mainland Europe or elsewhere. Urban areas are of particular concern since as well as being receptors of regional pollution, they have high local emissions from heating and road transport associated with their high population densities. They are also subject to an urban heat island effect which can impact on the chemistry of air pollution. Our overall aim is to use state-of-the-art modelling and measurements to quantify and reduce uncertainties in the key regional and local processes that control poor air quality in urban areas, both for present-day and in the future.

This proposal will develop a novel model framework using a nested suite of models to bridge scales from regional to urban for simulating atmospheric composition and weather including urban heat island effects across the UK and over London. The proposal will further exploit state-of-the-art NERC measrements from recent ClearfLo and REPARTEE field campaigns in London bringing together modelling and measurements experts to determine controlling factors of high O3 and PM events. A detailed box model of the chemical environment based on these field measurements will be constructed, and used to calculate in situ chemical production of O3 during both average and episodic conditions. The coupled regional to urban model will be evaluated against these box model and field campaign results as well as extensive network measurements. Multiple approaches will be used to probe the regional and local contributions to O3 during high O3 events. The key processes driving PM episodes will also be determined using speciated field measurements and coupled model results. The role of nitrous acid on O3 and PM oxidation chemistry in urban areas is a key uncertainty that will be quantified.

Air pollution events in the UK are usually associated with stagnation events, which in summer may be coincident with heatwaves. During heatwaves weather conditions may alter emission and deposition processes. The relative importance of these processes, such as reduced O3 deposition, that lead to elevated pollution levels will be established. To investigate the impact of future emissions and climate change on urban air quality, high-resolution climate-chemistry simulations that consistently account for changes in chemistry and transport from the regional to city scale will be performed and future impacts on air quality extremes evaluated. Proof of concept studies with the coupled model framework and with high-resolution climate projections demonstrate the viability of the intended research. This proposal comprises a strong collaboration between modelling and measurement scientists spanning the disciplines of fundamental chemistry, atmospheric composition, and climate change, to advance our understanding of the processes driving regional to urban-scale air quality now and in the future.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

UK policy makers and regulatory agencies with responsibilities in the areas of air quality, exposure to air pollutants and human and ecosystem health will directly benefit from the proposed research into the drivers of poor air quality, especially the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Communities and Local Government (CLG), the UK Department of Health (DH), Public Health England (PHE), the Environment Agency (EA), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Committee on Climate Change, and also the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) program. The Greater London Authority (GLA) will also benefit from our focus on the London urban environment.

International policy makers and air quality assessment bodies, especially the European Environment Agency (EEA), IPCC, WHO, the WMO, will also benefit, as will other organizations interested in climate change, air quality and health. In the commercial sector, the Met office will benefit from our findings concerning future climate and air quality.

The central topic of our project concerns drivers of poor air quality in urban areas hence the UK-wide population will benefit from a greater awareness of the conditions leading to poor air quality.

How will they benefit from this research?

The Met Office Hadley Centre will benefit from the research linking global model results from their HadGEM2 GCM through downscaled high resolution climate change to air pollution impacts at the regional and city scale. In particular, the Earth System and Mitigation Science group at the Hadley Centre are currently developing a 4-km environmental prediction model, hence will be most interested in our model framework. UKCIP will also be interested in our results that come from the HadGEM2 GCM used in the latest IPCC CMIP5 assessment.

We will build on existing links with members of the UK regulatory agencies that inform and shape UK policy (DEFRA, DH, PHE, EA), many of whom attended previous and recent stakeholder workshops including for our cross UK research council funded multi-disciplinary air pollution and epidemiology project. We will also nurture our links as members of the STFC-funded ozone network led by CEH. MH and DC are already closely involved with DEFRA though their panel membership of the DEFRA Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG). These regulators will benefit from our coupled model findings that are linked to existing and new measurement datasets; the research will provide process understanding of the controls on local air pollution that can be regulated by national policies and future changes therein. Our findings will be communicated through the regular interactions described above and through a dedicated project workshop and advisory group.

International policy and air quality assessment bodies (e.g. IPCC, WHO, WMO) will benefit from findings on climate change and future air quality. The IPCC will benefit from the results associated with the latest IPCC RCP climate and emission scenarios. GH has very strong links to IPCC WG1 to facilitate this knowledge transfer. Policy makers interested in the health effects of air pollution (WHO), will benefit from a greater understanding of the spatial and temporal variability of air pollution and relationships to health inequalities. The EEA/EC will benefit from modelling performed at the full range of relevant spatial scales.

The wider public will benefit from our increased capability to simulate air pollution at the street-level where they reside and work and are exposed to air pollution, and our enhanced understanding of the drivers of air pollution episodes. The will also benefit from regulators' and policy makers' enhanced knowledge of the likely effectiveness of air quality policies in future.

Our dissemination methods are described in the Pathways to Impact plan.
Description We have developed, together with other partners on this award, the very simple chemical mechanism used in the ADMS model for forecasting air quality in urban areas. The impact of nitrous acid as a source of radicals was investigated and found to be significant, and the ADMS model was compared with the predictions of large mechanisms, for example CBM-4 and the Master Chemical Mechanism. A significant change in the ozone generated was found when the full suite of volatile organic compounds and nitrous acid was included.

We have also used a trajectory model to try to separate the ozone production observed at a given location from local chemistry, and ozone advected to the measurement location. The work has progressed sufficiently that a publication is now in preparation.
Exploitation Route It is useful for policy makers and the general public to know the relative importance of local chemistry which generates secondary pollutants, and meteorology which can advect the pollutants to the site via longer range transport
Sectors Environment

Description Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants (CERC) - maintaining contact 
Organisation Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Following on from this award, we have maintained contact with CERC in order to explore future opportunities to work together (e.g. via CDTs) and to work on publications together.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise on trajectory modelling, input into publicatoins
Impact A research publication (see relevant section of form). It is multi-disciplinary: Chemistry, Meteorology
Start Year 2014