Regional sensitivities of air quality and human health impacts to aviation emissions

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Emissions from civil aviation degrade air quality, and have been estimated to lead to ~16 000 premature deaths annually. Previous studies have indicated that aviation emissions in different regions have varying corresponding air quality and human health impacts. Given the global nature of aviation activity and its forecasted regionally heterogeneous growth, this phenomenon poses challenges in aviation air quality decision making. In this study, we quantify the differences in the regional air quality responses to aviation emissions, and analyze their drivers. Specifically, we use the GEOS-Chem atmospheric chemistry-transport model to quantify the regional fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone sensitivity to aviation emissions over Asia, Europe, and North America for 2005. Simulations with perturbed regional aviation emissions are used to isolate health impacts of increases in aviation emissions originating from and occurring in different regions. Health impacts are evaluated as premature mortality attributed to both landing and takeoff and cruise emissions. We find that the sensitivity of PM2.5 global population exposure to full-flight emissions over Europe is 57% and 65% higher than those to emissions over Asia and North America, respectively. Additionally, the sensitivity of ozone global population exposure to aviation emissions over Europe is larger than to emissions over Asia (32%) and North America (36%). As a result, a unit of fuel burn mass over Europe results in 45% and 50% higher global health impacts than a unit of fuel burn mass over Asia and North America, respectively. Overall, we find that 73% and 88% of health impacts from aviation emissions over Europe and North America, respectively, occur outside the region of emission. These results suggest that inter-regional effects and differences in regional response to emissions should be taken into account when considering policies to mitigate air quality impacts from aviation, given the projected spatially heterogeneous growth in air transportation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105013
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • aviation
  • air quality
  • intercontinental pollution
  • public health
  • Aviation
  • Air quality
  • Intercontinental pollution
  • Public health


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