Articles | Volume 18, issue 19
Research article
05 Oct 2018
Research article |  | 05 Oct 2018

Coupling between surface ozone and leaf area index in a chemical transport model: strength of feedback and implications for ozone air quality and vegetation health

Shan S. Zhou, Amos P. K. Tai, Shihan Sun, Mehliyar Sadiq, Colette L. Heald, and Jeffrey A. Geddes

Abstract. Tropospheric ozone is an air pollutant that substantially harms vegetation and is also strongly dependent on various vegetation-mediated processes. The interdependence between ozone and vegetation may constitute feedback mechanisms that can alter ozone concentration itself but have not been considered in most studies to date. In this study we examine the importance of dynamic coupling between surface ozone and leaf area index (LAI) in shaping ozone air quality and vegetation. We first implement an empirical scheme for ozone damage on vegetation in the Community Land Model (CLM) and simulate the steady-state responses of LAI to long-term exposure to a range of prescribed ozone levels (from 0 to 100 ppb). We find that most plant functional types suffer a substantial decline in LAI as ozone level increases. Based on the CLM-simulated results, we develop and implement in the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model a parameterization that computes fractional changes in monthly LAI as a function of local mean ozone levels. By forcing LAI to respond to ozone concentrations on a monthly timescale, the model simulates ozone–LAI coupling dynamically via biogeochemical processes including biogenic volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and dry deposition, without the complication from meteorological changes. We find that ozone-induced damage on LAI can lead to changes in ozone concentrations by −1.8 to +3 ppb in boreal summer, with a corresponding ozone feedback factor of −0.1 to +0.6 that represents an overall self-amplifying effect from ozone–LAI coupling. Substantially higher simulated ozone due to strong positive feedbacks is found in most tropical forests, mainly due to the ozone-induced reductions in LAI and dry deposition velocity, whereas reduced isoprene emission plays a lesser role in these low-NOx environments. In high-NOx regions such as the eastern US, Europe, and China, however, the feedback effect is much weaker and even negative in some regions, reflecting the compensating effects of reduced dry deposition and reduced isoprene emission (which reduces ozone in high-NOx environments). In remote, low-LAI regions, including most of the Southern Hemisphere, the ozone feedback is generally slightly negative due to the reduced transport of NOx–VOC reaction products that serve as NOx reservoirs. This study represents the first step to accounting for dynamic ozone–vegetation coupling in a chemical transport model with ramifications for a more realistic joint assessment of ozone air quality and ecosystem health.

Short summary
Surface ozone pollution harms vegetation. As plants play key roles shaping air quality, the plant damage may further worsen air pollution. We use various computer models to examine such feedback effects, and find that ozone-induced decline in leaf density can lead to much higher ozone levels in forested regions, mostly due to the reduced ability of leaves to absorb pollutants. This study highlights the importance of considering the two-way interactions between plants and air pollution.
Final-revised paper