Articles | Volume 15, issue 15
Research article
03 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 03 Aug 2015

Effects of urban land expansion on the regional meteorology and air quality of eastern China

W. Tao, J. Liu, G. A. Ban-Weiss, D. A. Hauglustaine, L. Zhang, Q. Zhang, Y. Cheng, Y. Yu, and S. Tao

Abstract. Rapid urbanization throughout eastern China is imposing an irreversible effect on local climate and air quality. In this paper, we examine the response of a range of meteorological and air quality indicators to urbanization. Our study uses the Weather Research and Forecasting model coupled with chemistry (WRF/Chem) to simulate the climate and air quality impacts of four hypothetical urbanization scenarios with fixed surface pollutant emissions during the month of July from 2008 to 2012. An improved integrated process rate (IPR) analysis scheme is implemented in WRF/Chem to investigate the mechanisms behind the forcing–response relationship at the process level. For all years, as urban land area expands, concentrations of CO, elemental carbon (EC), and particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) tend to decrease near the surface (below ~ 500 m), but increase at higher altitudes (1–3 km), resulting in a reduced vertical concentration gradient. On the other hand, the O3 burden, averaged over all newly urbanized grid cells, consistently increases from the surface to a height of about 4 km. Sensitivity tests show that the responses of pollutant concentrations to the spatial extent of urbanization are nearly linear near the surface, but nonlinear at higher altitudes. Over eastern China, each 10 % increase in nearby urban land coverage on average leads to a decrease of approximately 2 % in surface concentrations for CO, EC, and PM2.5, while for O3 an increase of about 1 % is simulated. At 800 hPa, pollutants' concentrations tend to increase even more rapidly with an increase in nearby urban land coverage. This indicates that as large tracts of new urban land emerge, the influence of urban expansion on meteorology and air pollution would be significantly amplified. IPR analysis reveals the contribution of individual atmospheric processes to pollutants' concentration changes. It indicates that, for primary pollutants, the enhanced sink (source) caused by turbulent mixing and vertical advection in the lower (upper) atmosphere could be a key factor in changes to simulated vertical profiles. The evolution of secondary pollutants is further influenced by the upward relocation of precursors that impact gas-phase chemistry for O3 and aerosol processes for PM2.5. Our study indicates that dense urbanization has a moderate dilution effect on surface primary airborne contaminants, but may intensify severe haze and ozone pollution if local emissions are not well controlled.

Short summary
We examine the responses of a range of meteorological and air quality indicators to the expansion of urban land using WRF/Chem. Sensitivity studies indicate that the responses of pollutant concentrations to the spatial extent of urbanization are linear near the surface but nonlinear at higher altitudes. The results of process analysis demonstrate that urban heat island circulation and a deeper boundary layer with stronger turbulent intensities play a significant role in relocating pollutants.
Final-revised paper