Assessment of parameters describing representativeness of air quality in-situ measurement sites
Abstract. The atmospheric layer closest to the ground is strongly influenced by variable surface fluxes (emissions, surface deposition) and can therefore be very heterogeneous. In order to perform air quality measurements that are representative of a larger domain or a certain degree of pollution, observatories are placed away from population centres or within areas of specific population density. Sites are often categorised based on subjective criteria that are not uniformly applied by the atmospheric community within different administrative domains yielding an inconsistent global air quality picture. A novel approach for the assessment of parameters reflecting site representativeness is presented here, taking emissions, deposition and transport towards 34 sites covering Western and Central Europe into account. These parameters are directly inter-comparable among the sites and can be used to select sites that are, on average, more or less suitable for data assimilation and comparison with satellite and model data. Advection towards these sites was simulated by backward Lagrangian Particle Dispersion Modelling (LPDM) to determine the sites' average catchment areas for the year 2005 and advection times of 12, 24 and 48 h. Only variations caused by emissions and transport during these periods were considered assuming that these dominate the short-term variability of most but especially short lived trace gases. The derived parameters describing representativeness were compared between sites and a novel, uniform and observation-independent categorisation of the sites based on a clustering approach was established. Six groups of European background sites were identified ranging from generally remote to more polluted agglomeration sites. These six categories explained 50 to 80% of the inter-site variability of median mixing ratios and their standard deviation for NO2 and O3, while differences between group means of the longer-lived trace gas CO were insignificant. The derived annual catchment areas strongly depended on the applied LPDM and input wind fields, the catchment settings and the year of analysis. Nevertheless, the parameters describing representativeness showed considerably less variability than the catchment geometry, supporting the applicability of the derived station categorisation.