The impact of weather patterns and related transport processes on aviation's contribution to ozone and methane concentrations from NOxemissions

Simon Rosanka, Christine Frömming, Volker Grewe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Aviation-attributed climate impact depends on a combination of composition changes in trace gases due to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and non-CO2 species. Nitrogen oxides (NOx D NO C NO2) emissions induce an increase in ozone (O3) and a depletion of methane (CH4), leading to a climate warming and a cooling, respectively. In contrast to CO2, non-CO2 contributions to the atmospheric composition are short lived and are thus characterised by a high spatial and temporal variability. In this study, we investigate the influence of weather patterns and their related transport processes on composition changes caused by aviationattributed NOx emissions. This is achieved by using the atmospheric chemistry model EMAC (ECHAM/MESSy). Representative weather situations were simulated in which unit NOx emissions are initialised in specific air parcels at typical flight altitudes over the North Atlantic flight sector. By explicitly calculating contributions to the O3 and CH4 concentrations induced by these emissions, interactions between trace gas composition changes and weather conditions along the trajectory of each air parcel are investigated. Previous studies showed a clear correlation between the prevailing weather situation at the time when the NOx emission occurs and the climate impact of the NOx emission. Here, we show that the aviation NOx contribution to ozone is characterised by the time and magnitude of its maximum and demonstrate that a high O3 maximum is only possible if the maximum occurs early after the emission. Early maxima occur only if the air parcel, in which the NOx emission occurred, is transported to lower altitudes, where the chemical activity is high. This downward transport is caused by subsidence in highpressure systems. A high ozone magnitude only occurs if the air parcel is transported downward into a region in which the ozone production is efficient. This efficiency is limited by atmospheric NOx and HOx concentrations during summer and winter, respectively. We show that a large CH4 depletion is only possible if a strong formation of O3 occurs due to the NOx emission and if high atmospheric H2O concentrations are present along the air parcel's trajectory. Only air parcels, which are transported into tropical areas due to highpressure systems, experience high concentrations of H2O and thus a large CH4 depletion. Avoiding climate-sensitive areas by rerouting aircraft flight tracks is currently computationally not feasible due to the long chemical simulations needed. The findings of this study form a basis of a better understanding of NOx climate-sensitive areas and through this will allow us to propose an alternative approach to estimate aviation's climate impact on a day-to-day basis, based on computationally cheaper meteorological simulations without computationally expensive chemistry. This comprises a step towards a climate impact assessment of individual flights, here with the contribution of aviation NOx emissions to climate change, ultimately enabling routings with a lower climate impact by avoiding climate-sensitive regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12347-12361
Number of pages15
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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