Modelling the impacts of emission changes on O3 sensitivity, atmospheric oxidation capacity, and pollution transport over the Catalonia region

Alba Badia*, Veronica Vidal, Sergi Ventura, Roger Curcoll, Ricard Segura, Gara Villalba

*Corresponding author for this work

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Tropospheric ozone (O3) is an important surface pollutant in urban areas, and it has complex formation mechanisms that depend on the atmospheric chemistry and on meteorological factors. The severe reductions observed in anthropogenic emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic can further our understanding of the photochemical mechanisms leading to O3 formation and provide guidance for policies aimed at reducing air pollution. In this study, we use the Weather Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry (WRF-Chem) coupled with the urban canopy building effect parameterization and building energy model (BEP + BEM) to investigate changes in the ozone chemistry over the metropolitan area of Barcelona (AMB) and its atmospheric plume moving northwards, which is responsible for the highest number of hourly O3 exceedances in Spain. The trajectories of the air masses from the AMB to the Pyrenees are studied with the Lagrangian FLEXible PARTicle dispersion model with WRF (FLEXPART-WRF). The aim is to investigate the response of ozone chemistry to reduction in precursor emissions (NOx – nitrogen oxides; VOCs – volatile organic compounds). The results show that, with the reduction in emissions, (1) the ozone chemistry tends to enter the NOx-limited or transition regimes, but highly polluted urban areas are still in the VOC-limited regime; (2) the reduced O3 production is overwhelmed by reduced nitric oxide (NO) titration, resulting in a net increase in the O3 concentration (up to 20 %) in the evening; (3) the increase in the maximum O3 level (up to 6 %) during the highest emission-reduction period could be attributed to an enhancement in the atmospheric oxidants hydroxyl and nitrate radical (OH and NO3) given their strong link with O3 loss or production chemistry; (4) the daily maximum levels of ozone and odd oxygen species (Ox) generally decreased (4 %) in May – a period with intense radiation which favours ozone production – with the reduced atmospheric OH and NO3 oxidants, indicating an improvement in the air quality; and (5) ozone precursor concentration changes in the urban plume of Barcelona contribute significantly to the level of pollution along the 150 km south-to-north valley in the Pyrenees. Our results indicate that O3 abatement strategies cannot rely only on NOx emission control but must include a significant reduction in anthropogenic sources of VOCs. In addition, our results show that mitigation strategies intended to reduce O3 should be designed according to the local meteorology, air transport, particular ozone regimes, and oxidation capacity of the atmosphere of the urban area
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10751-10774
Number of pages24
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2023


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