Articles | Volume 13, issue 11
Research article
 | Highlight paper
06 Jun 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 06 Jun 2013

Impacts of aircraft emissions on the air quality near the ground

H. Lee, S. C. Olsen, D. J. Wuebbles, and D. Youn

Abstract. The continuing increase in demand for commercial aviation transport raises questions about the effects of resulting emissions on the environment. The purpose of this study is to investigate, using a global chemistry transport model, to what extent aviation emissions outside the boundary layer influence air quality in the boundary layer. The large-scale effects of current levels of aircraft emissions were studied through comparison of multiple simulations allowing for the separated effects of aviation emissions occurring in the low, middle and upper troposphere. We show that emissions near cruise altitudes (9–11 km in altitude) rather than emissions during landing and take-off are responsible for most of the total odd-nitrogen (NOy), ozone (O3) and aerosol perturbations near the ground with a noticeable seasonal difference. Overall, the perturbations of these species are smaller than 1 ppb even in winter when the perturbations are greater than in summer. Based on the widely used air quality standards and uncertainty of state-of-the-art models, we conclude that aviation-induced perturbations have a negligible effect on air quality even in areas with heavy air traffic. Aviation emissions lead to a less than 1% aerosol enhancement in the boundary layer due to a slight increase in ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) during cold seasons and a statistically insignificant aerosol perturbation in summer. In addition, statistical analysis using probability density functions, Hellinger distance, and p value indicate that aviation emissions outside the boundary layer do not affect the occurrence of extremely high aerosol concentrations in the boundary layer. An additional sensitivity simulation assuming the doubling of surface ammonia emissions demonstrates that the aviation induced aerosol increase near the ground is highly dependent on background ammonia concentrations whose current range of uncertainty is large.

Final-revised paper