Articles | Volume 17, issue 11
Research article
16 Jun 2017
Research article |  | 16 Jun 2017

Sensitivity of local air quality to the interplay between small- and large-scale circulations: a large-eddy simulation study

Tobias Wolf-Grosse, Igor Esau, and Joachim Reuder

Abstract. Street-level urban air pollution is a challenging concern for modern urban societies. Pollution dispersion models assume that the concentrations decrease monotonically with raising wind speed. This convenient assumption breaks down when applied to flows with local recirculations such as those found in topographically complex coastal areas. This study looks at a practically important and sufficiently common case of air pollution in a coastal valley city. Here, the observed concentrations are determined by the interaction between large-scale topographically forced and local-scale breeze-like recirculations.

Analysis of a long observational dataset in Bergen, Norway, revealed that the most extreme cases of recurring wintertime air pollution episodes were accompanied by increased large-scale wind speeds above the valley. Contrary to the theoretical assumption and intuitive expectations, the maximum NO2 concentrations were not found for the lowest 10 m ERA-Interim wind speeds but in situations with wind speeds of 3 m s−1. To explain this phenomenon, we investigated empirical relationships between the large-scale forcing and the local wind and air quality parameters. We conducted 16 large-eddy simulation (LES) experiments with the Parallelised Large-Eddy Simulation Model (PALM) for atmospheric and oceanic flows. The LES accounted for the realistic relief and coastal configuration as well as for the large-scale forcing and local surface condition heterogeneity in Bergen. They revealed that emerging local breeze-like circulations strongly enhance the urban ventilation and dispersion of the air pollutants in situations with weak large-scale winds. Slightly stronger large-scale winds, however, can counteract these local recirculations, leading to enhanced surface air stagnation.

Furthermore, this study looks at the concrete impact of the relative configuration of warmer water bodies in the city and the major transport corridor. We found that a relatively small local water body acted as a barrier for the horizontal transport of air pollutants from the largest street in the valley and along the valley bottom, transporting them vertically instead and hence diluting them. We found that the stable stratification accumulates the street-level pollution from the transport corridor in shallow air pockets near the surface. The polluted air pockets are transported by the local recirculations to other less polluted areas with only slow dilution. This combination of relatively long distance and complex transport paths together with weak dispersion is not sufficiently resolved in classical air pollution models. The findings have important implications for the air quality predictions over urban areas. Any prediction not resolving these, or similar local dynamic features, might not be able to correctly simulate the dispersion of pollutants in cities.

Short summary
In this publication we used a number of very high (10 m) resolution simulations in order to assess the circulation in a coastal mountain city under high-air-pollution conditions. We found that forcings of the valley circulation through local surface inhomogeneities can have a distinct impact on the pollution distribution in the urban area. The work serves as a proof of concept for the applied high-resolution simulations to assess pollution conditions in the urban area under the given conditions.
Final-revised paper