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J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2012 Jun;62(6):696-706.

Assessment of a regulatory model's performance relative to large spatial heterogeneity in observed ozone in Houston, Texas.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, CB 7431, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


In Houston, some of the highest measured 8-hr ozone (O3) peaks are characterized by sudden increases in observed concentrations of at least 40 ppb in 1 hr or 60 ppb in 2 hr. Measurements show that these large hourly changes appear at only a few monitors and span a narrow geographic area, suggesting a spatially heterogeneous field of O3 concentrations. This study assessed whether a regulatory air quality model (AQM) can simulate this observed behavior. The AQM did not reproduce the magnitude or location of some of the highest observed hourly O3 changes, and it also failed to capture the limited spatial extent. On days with measured large hourly changes in O3 concentrations, the AQM predicted high O3 over large regions of Houston, resulting in overpredictions at several monitors. This analysis shows that the model can make high O3, but on these days the predicted spatial field suggests that the model had a different cause. Some observed large hourly changes in O3 concentrations have been linked to random releases of industrial volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In the AQM emission inventory, there are several emission events when an industrial point source increases VOC emissions in excess of 10,000 mol/hr. One instance increased predicted downwind O3 concentrations up to 25 ppb. These results show that the modeling system is responsive to a large VOC release, but the timing and location of the release, and meteorological conditions, are critical requirements. Attainment of the O3 standard requires the use of observational data and AQM predictions. If the large observed hourly changes are indicative of a separate cause of high O3, then the model may not include that cause, which might result in regulators enacting control strategies that could be ineffective.

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