Articles | Volume 15, issue 5
Research article
10 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 10 Mar 2015

Observations and modeling of air quality trends over 1990–2010 across the Northern Hemisphere: China, the United States and Europe

J. Xing, R. Mathur, J. Pleim, C. Hogrefe, C.-M. Gan, D. C. Wong, C. Wei, R. Gilliam, and G. Pouliot

Abstract. Trends in air quality across the Northern Hemisphere over a 21-year period (1990–2010) were simulated using the Community Multiscale Air Quality (CMAQ) multiscale chemical transport model driven by meteorology from Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) simulations and internally consistent historical emission inventories obtained from EDGAR. Thorough comparison with several ground observation networks mostly over Europe and North America was conducted to evaluate the model performance as well as the ability of CMAQ to reproduce the observed trends in air quality over the past 2 decades in three regions: eastern China, the continental United States and Europe.

The model successfully reproduced the observed decreasing trends in SO2, NO2, 8 h O3 maxima, SO42− and elemental carbon (EC) in the US and Europe. However, the model fails to reproduce the decreasing trends in NO3 in the US, potentially pointing to uncertainties of NH3 emissions. The model failed to capture the 6-year trends of SO2 and NO2 in CN-API (China – Air Pollution Index) from 2005 to 2010, but reproduced the observed pattern of O3 trends shown in three World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) sites over eastern Asia. Due to the coarse spatial resolution employed in these calculations, predicted SO2 and NO2 concentrations are underestimated relative to all urban networks, i.e., US-AQS (US – Air Quality System; normalized mean bias (NMB) = −38% and −48%), EU-AIRBASE (European Air quality data Base; NMB = −18 and −54%) and CN-API (NMB = −36 and −68%). Conversely, at the rural network EU-EMEP (European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme), SO2 is overestimated (NMB from 4 to 150%) while NO2 is simulated well (NMB within ±15%) in all seasons. Correlations between simulated and observed O3 wintertime daily 8 h maxima (DM8) are poor compared to other seasons for all networks. Better correlation between simulated and observed SO42− was found compared to that for SO2. Underestimation of summer SO42− in the US may be associated with the uncertainty in precipitation and associated wet scavenging representation in the model. The model exhibits worse performance for NO3 predictions, particularly in summer, due to high uncertainties in the gas/particle partitioning of NO3 as well as seasonal variations of NH3 emissions. There are high correlations (R > 0.5) between observed and simulated EC, although the model underestimates the EC concentration by 65% due to the coarse grid resolution as well as uncertainties in the PM speciation profile associated with EC emissions.

The almost linear response seen in the trajectory of modeled O3 changes in eastern China over the past 2 decades suggests that control strategies that focus on combined control of NOx and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions with a ratio of 0.46 may provide the most effective means for O3 reductions for the region devoid of nonlinear response potentially associated with NOx or VOC limitation resulting from alternate strategies. The response of O3 is more sensitive to changes in NOx emissions in the eastern US because the relative abundance of biogenic VOC emissions tends to reduce the effectiveness of VOC controls. Increasing NH3 levels offset the relative effectiveness of NOx controls in reducing the relative fraction of aerosol NO3 formed from declining NOx emissions in the eastern US, while the control effectiveness was assured by the simultaneous control of NH3 emission in Europe.

Short summary
Model-simulated air quality trends over the past 2 decades largely agree with those derived from observations. In the relative amounts of VOC and NOx emission controls in different regions across the northern hemisphere have led to significantly different trends in tropospheric O3. Differences in the historical changes in the relative amounts of NH3, NOx and SO2 emissions also impact the trends in inorganic particulate matter amounts and composition in China, the U.S. and Europe.
Final-revised paper