Assumptions about footprint layer heights influence the quantification of emission sources: a case study for Cyprus
Abstract. Lagrangian particle dispersion models (LPDMs) in backward mode are widely used to quantify the impact of transboundary pollution on downwind sites. Most LPDM applications count particles with a technique that introduces a so-called footprint layer (FL) with constant height, in which passing air tracer particles are assumed to be affected by surface emissions. The mixing layer dynamics are represented by the underlying meteorological model. This particle counting technique implicitly assumes that the atmosphere is well mixed in the FL. We have performed backward trajectory simulations with the FLEXPART model starting at Cyprus to calculate the sensitivity to emissions of upwind pollution sources. The emission sensitivity is used to quantify source contributions at the receptor and support the interpretation of ground measurements carried out during the CYPHEX campaign in July 2014. Here we analyse the effects of different constant and dynamic FL height assumptions. The results show that calculations with FL heights of 100 and 300 m yield similar but still discernible results. Comparison of calculations with FL heights constant at 300 m and dynamically following the planetary boundary layer (PBL) height exhibits systematic differences, with daytime and night-time sensitivity differences compensating for each other. The differences at daytime when a well-mixed PBL can be assumed indicate that residual inaccuracies in the representation of the mixing layer dynamics in the trajectories may introduce errors in the impact assessment on downwind sites. Emissions from vegetation fires are mixed up by pyrogenic convection which is not represented in FLEXPART. Neglecting this convection may lead to severe over- or underestimations of the downwind smoke concentrations. Introducing an extreme fire source from a different year in our study period and using fire-observation-based plume heights as reference, we find an overestimation of more than 60 % by the constant FL height assumptions used for surface emissions. Assuming a FL that follows the PBL may reproduce the peak of the smoke plume passing through but erroneously elevates the background for shallow stable PBL heights. It might thus be a reasonable assumption for open biomass burning emissions wherever observation-based injection heights are not available.