Articles | Volume 12, issue 16
Research article
17 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 17 Aug 2012

Quantifying population exposure to airborne particulate matter during extreme events in California due to climate change

A. Mahmud, M. Hixson, and M. J. Kleeman

Abstract. The effect of climate change on population-weighted concentrations of particulate matter (PM) during extreme pollution events was studied using the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model and the UCD/CIT 3-D photochemical air quality model. A "business as usual" (B06.44) global emissions scenario was dynamically downscaled for the entire state of California between the years 2000–2006 and 2047–2053. Air quality simulations were carried out for 1008 days in each of the present-day and future climate conditions using year-2000 emissions. Population-weighted concentrations of PM0.1, PM2.5, and PM10 total mass, components species, and primary source contributions were calculated for California and three air basins: the Sacramento Valley air basin (SV), the San Joaquin Valley air basin (SJV) and the South Coast Air Basin (SoCAB). Results over annual-average periods were contrasted with extreme events.

The current study found that the change in annual-average population-weighted PM2.5 mass concentrations due to climate change between 2000 vs. 2050 within any major sub-region in California was not statistically significant. However, climate change did alter the annual-average composition of the airborne particles in the SoCAB, with notable reductions of elemental carbon (EC; −3%) and organic carbon (OC; −3%) due to increased annual-average wind speeds that diluted primary concentrations from gasoline combustion (−3%) and food cooking (−4%). In contrast, climate change caused significant increases in population-weighted PM2.5 mass concentrations in central California during extreme events. The maximum 24-h average PM2.5 concentration experienced by an average person during a ten-yr period in the SJV increased by 21% due to enhanced production of secondary particulate matter (manifested as NH4NO3). In general, climate change caused increased stagnation during future extreme pollution events, leading to higher exposure to diesel engines particles (+32%) and wood combustion particles (+14%) when averaging across the population of the entire state. Enhanced stagnation also isolated populations from distant sources such as shipping (−61%) during extreme events. The combination of these factors altered the statewide population-averaged composition of particles during extreme events, with EC increasing by 23 %, nitrate increasing by 58%, and sulfate decreasing by 46%.

Final-revised paper