Validation and optimization of the ATMO-Street air quality model chain by means of a large-scale citizen-science dataset

H. Hooyberghs*, S. De Craemer, W. Lefebvre, S. Vranckx, B. Maiheu, E. Trimpeneers, C. Vanpoucke, S. Janssen, F. J.R. Meysman, F. Fierens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Detailed validation of air quality models is essential, but remains challenging, due to a lack of suitable high-resolution measurement datasets. This is particularly true for pollutants with short-scale spatial variations, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2). While street-level air quality model chains can predict concentration gradients at high spatial resolution, measurement campaigns lack the coverage and spatial density required to validate these gradients. Citizen science offers a tool to collect large-scale datasets, but it remains unclear to what extent such data can truly increase model performance. Here we use the passive sampler dataset collected within the large-scale citizen science campaign CurieuzeNeuzen to assess the integrated ATMO-Street street-level air quality model chain. The extensiveness of the dataset (20.000 sampling locations across the densely populated region Flanders, ∼1.5 data points per km2) allowed an in-depth model validation and optimization. We illustrate generic techniques and methods to assess and improve street-level air quality models, and show that considerable model improvement can be achieved, in particular with respect to the correct representation of the small-scale spatial variability of the NO2-concentrations. After model optimization, the model skill of the ATMO-Street chain significantly increased, passing the FAIRMODE model quality threshold, and thus substantiating its suitability for policy support. More generally, our results reveal how a “deep validation” based on extensive spatial data can substantially improve model performance, thus demonstrating how air quality modelling can benefit from one-off large-scale monitoring campaigns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118946
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Air pollution
  • Citizen science
  • Dispersion modelling
  • FAIRMODE Model Quality Objective
  • Model optimization
  • Model validation
  • Semi-variogram analysis
  • Spatial variation
  • Street level modelling


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