Changes in air quality and tropospheric composition due to depletion of stratospheric ozone and interactions with climate



Publication Details

Tang, X., Wilson, S. R., Solomon, K. R.., Shao, M. & Madronich, S. (2011). Changes in air quality and tropospheric composition due to depletion of stratospheric ozone and interactions with climate. Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences, 10 (2), 280-291.


Air pollution will be directly influenced by future changes in emissions of pollutants, climate, and stratospheric ozone, and will have significant consequences for human health and the environment. UV radiation is one of the controlling factors for the formation of photochemical smog, which includes tropospheric ozone (O3) and aerosols; it also initiates the production of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which control the amount of many climate- and ozone-relevant gases (e.g., methane and HCFCs) in the atmosphere. Numerical models predict that future changes in UV radiation and climate will modify the trends and geographic distribution of OH, thus affecting the formation of photochemical smog in many urban and regional areas. Concentrations of OH are predicted to decrease globally by an average of 20% by 2100, with local concentrations varying by as much as a factor of two above and below current values. However, significant differences between modelled and measured values in a limited number of case studies show that chemistry of hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere is not fully understood. Photochemically produced tropospheric ozone is projected to increase. If emissions of anthropogenic air pollutants from combustion of fossil fuels, burning of biomass, and agricultural activities continue to increase, concentrations of tropospheric O3 will tend to increase over the next 2040 years in certain regions of low and middle latitudes because of interactions of emissions, chemical processes, and climate change. Climate-driven increases in temperature and humidity will also increase production of tropospheric O3 in polluted regions, but reduce it in more pristine regions. Higher temperatures tend to increase emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from some soils and release of biogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation, leading to greater background concentrations of ozone in the troposphere. The net effects of future changes in UV radiation, meteorological conditions, and anthropogenic emissions may be large, thus posing challenges for prediction and management of air quality. Aerosols composed of organic substances have a major role in both climate and air quality, and contribute a large uncertainty to the energy budget of the atmosphere. These aerosols are mostly formed via the UV-initiated oxidation of VOCs from anthropogenic and biogenic sources, although the details of the chemistry are still poorly understood and current models under-predict their abundance. A better understanding of their formation, chemical composition, and optical properties is required to assess their significance for air quality and to better quantify their direct and indirect radiative forcing of climate. Emissions of compounds containing fluorine will continue to have effects on the chemistry of the atmosphere and on climate change. The HCFCs and HFCs used as substitutes for ozone-depleting CFCs can break down into trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), which will accumulate in oceans, salt lakes, and playas. Based on historical use and projections of future uses, including new products entering the market, such as the fluoro-olefins, increased loadings of TFA in these environmental sinks will be small. Even when added to existing amounts from natural sources, risks to humans or the environment from the historical use of CFCs or continued use of their replacements is judged to be negligible.

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