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Predicting Climate Effects On Air Quality

Modeling study shows global warming will make ozone worse, but effect can be mitigated by emissions controls

by Jyllian Kemsley
May 12, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 19

With climate change will come air quality changes, but modeling such effects is complicated. For example, higher temperatures should increase amounts of harmful ground-level ozone, while higher humidity could have varying effects on the compound, depending on pollution levels. A new National Center for Atmospheric Research supercomputer helps to factor in such competing effects. The supercomputer enables regional air quality projections that incorporate climate-change effects, as demonstrated in a study of U.S. summertime ozone concentrations between now and 2050 (J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/2013jd020932). In that study, a research team found that without new emission controls, climate change would lead to a 70% increase in days exceeding the current EPA standard for ground-level ozone. When the scientists incorporated reduced emissions of ozone precursors NOx, CO, and volatile organic carbon compounds, however, air quality improved compared with today. The results demonstrate the need to combine emissions, climate, and regional influences when considering future air quality, the authors say.

A map of the US in which most of southern California and Nevada and nearly everything east of the Missouri River is red, and most of the rest of the country is yellow or orange.
Credit: J. Geophys. Res. Atmos.
Based on computer modeling, this map shows the predicted difference in the number of U.S. summer days that will exceed the current EPA ozone standard in 2050 compared with today, if emissions of precursor compounds are not reduced.


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