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

How emissions, climate, and land use change will impact mid-century air quality over the United States: a focus on effects at national parks

M. Val Martin, C. L. Heald, J.-F. Lamarque, S. Tilmes, L. K. Emmons, and B. A. Schichtel

Abstract. We use a global coupled chemistry–climate–land model (CESM) to assess the integrated effect of climate, emissions and land use changes on annual surface O3 and PM2.5 in the United States with a focus on national parks (NPs) and wilderness areas, using the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 projections. We show that, when stringent domestic emission controls are applied, air quality is predicted to improve across the US, except surface O3 over the western and central US under RCP8.5 conditions, where rising background ozone counteracts domestic emission reductions. Under the RCP4.5 scenario, surface O3 is substantially reduced (about 5 ppb), with daily maximum 8 h averages below the primary US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of 75 ppb (and even 65 ppb) in all the NPs. PM2.5 is significantly reduced in both scenarios (4 μg m−3; ~50%), with levels below the annual US EPA NAAQS of 12 μg m−3 across all the NPs; visibility is also improved (10–15 dv; >75 km in visibility range), although some western US parks with Class I status (40–74 % of total sites in the US) are still above the 2050 planned target level to reach the goal of natural visibility conditions by 2064. We estimate that climate-driven increases in fire activity may dominate summertime PM2.5 over the western US, potentially offsetting the large PM2.5 reductions from domestic emission controls, and keeping visibility at present-day levels in many parks. Our study indicates that anthropogenic emission patterns will be important for air quality in 2050. However, climate and land use changes alone may lead to a substantial increase in surface O3 (2–3 ppb) with important consequences for O3 air quality and ecosystem degradation at the US NPs. Our study illustrates the need to consider the effects of changes in climate, vegetation, and fires in future air quality management and planning and emission policy making.

Short summary
We present for the first time the relative effect of climate, emissions, and land use change on ozone and PM25 over the United States, focusing on the national parks. Air quality in 2050 will likely be dominated by emission patterns, but climate and land use changes alone can lead to a substantial increase in air pollution over most of the US, with important implications for O3 air quality, visibility and ecosystem health degradation in the national parks.
Final-revised paper