Jun 1, 2019

Global Warming Will Aggravate Ozone Pollution in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic

Cristina L. Archer, Joseph F. Brodie, and Sara A. Rauscher
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology

Study key findings

  • Increasing temperatures due to climate change will shift climatic conditions, resulting in worse air quality in the US mid-Atlantic by increasing the number of days with high concentrations of ozone.
  • The study finds a general increasing trend, weaker in the early midcentury and stronger in the late midcentury, with 2 and 5 extra high-ozone days per year, respectively, from 16 in 2015.

Author quotes

Ozone has large negative impacts on health, especially affecting the cardiopulmonary and respiratory systems. It is especially bad if you already have a respiratory condition, asthma, for example, or an infection. In Delaware, we are barely in attainment or slightly in non-attainment (of ozone regulations). When we are not in attainment, the Environmental Protection Agency has to act. That is the relevance. That is why we need to know now there is a problem, so we can act on it.

Cristina Archer, lead author and professor at the University of Delaware


The goal of this study is to evaluate the effects of anthropogenic climate change on air quality, in particular on ozone, during the summer in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region. First, we establish a connection between high-ozone (HO) days, defined as those with observed 8-h average ozone concentration greater than 70 parts per billion (ppb), and certain weather patterns, called synoptic types. We identify four summer synoptic types that most often are associated with HO days based on a 30-yr historical period (1986–2015) using NCEP–NCAR reanalysis. Second, we define thresholds for mean near-surface temperature and precipitation that characterize HO days during the four HO synoptic types. Next, we look at climate projections from five models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) for the early and late midcentury (2025–34 and 2045–54) and analyze the frequency of HO days. We find a general increasing trend, weaker in the early midcentury and stronger in the late midcentury, with 2 and 5 extra HO days per year, respectively, from 16 in 2015. These 5 extra days are the result of two processes. On one hand, the four HO synoptic types will increase in frequency, which explains about 1.5–2 extra HO days. The remaining 3–3.5 extra days are explained by the increase in near-surface temperatures during the HO synoptic types. Future air quality regulations, which have been successful in the historical period at reducing ozone concentrations in the mid-Atlantic, may need to become stricter to compensate for the underlying increasing trends from global warming.