How Atmospheric Circulation Impacts Air Pollution Events

Extreme air pollution events pose a considerable threat. It’s estimated that air pollution is currently causing seven million deaths annually. Pollution events do not occur in isolation but involve the interplay between the atmosphere’s dynamical and chemical systems. The relationship between these systems is not well understood. Peter G. Hess, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and his collaborators are bridging the gap between the two separate lines of inquiry, regarding pollution: studies of the dynamics of the atmosphere and studies of atmospheric chemistry and aerosols.

The innovation in the proposed work is to understand these extreme pollution events within the context of the general circulation of the atmosphere. Recent advances in the theory of atmospheric transport and mixing have shown the value of an objective diagnostic of the waviness of the jet stream and the associated synoptic cyclones and anticyclones. Hess and his team are elucidating changes in wave activity and their relationship to air pollution events. These simplifying diagnostics have the potential to transform understanding of how atmospheric circulation impacts air pollution events.

Further exploration of the chemical aspects of pollution events is also critical. Among other things, researchers are taking into account the chemical sensitivity to changes in biomass burning and biogenic emissions that are meteorologically dependent. They are also looking at the sensitivity of pollution to dry deposition, which has strong meteorological influences. Understanding both the atmospheric chemistry and the atmospheric dynamics will help predict how climate change and changes in circulation will impact future air pollution. 

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$590 Thousand spanning 3 years