ESRL Integrating Research and Technology Themes

Aerosols: Climate and Air Quality

  1. Goal and Scope
  2. The goal of this integrated activity is to more effectively address NOAA strategic goals in both climate and air quality by interlinking the research and resulting policy-support information associated with the simultaneous impact of aerosols (airborne fine particles) on both climate and air quality.

    The scientific foci are the following:

    • Integrated field studies that identify the processes whereby aerosols are formed by pollutants, with co-planned emphases on characterizing the radiative properties that influence the climate system (by radiation scattering-absorption and via aerosol-cloud interactions) and the chemical properties that influence human health.
    • Laboratory studies that characterize the atmospheric processes involved in aerosol formation, properties, and transport, including new instrument development.
    • Coordinated in situ and satellite monitoring of aerosols distributions and trends that relate to climate and air quality (e.g., changes in aerosol loading entering North America (from Asian emissions) and leaving North America (from North America)
    • Simulative modeling to test current theoretical understanding against the above data and to subsequently improve the predictive model capabilities.
    • Integrated assessments of aerosol, climate, and air quality science for support of policy associated with both the climate and the air quality issues.

  3. Rationale and Payoffs
  4. The atmosphere "has already integrated" the roles of aerosols in climate and air quality. Namely, many emissions lead to both climate and air quality impacts (e.g., "soot" with its warming effect on climate and its degradation of inhaled air). Further, time series of the abundance of aerosols are long-standing components of both climate and air quality research. Additionally, some atmospheric processes influence the roles of aerosols in both climate and air quality (e.g., boundary layer escape and chemical transformation of precursors)

    As a result, there are very significant synergies cost savings from co-planned research.

    1. Common spatial and temporal scales: The same airborne platforms that can help elucidate continental carbon fluxes can also provide space-time information on air quality transformations/transport.
    2. Common analytical techniques. The chemical makeup of aerosols is needed to understand the causal agent in health degradation and to understand the absorptive/reflective radiative properties of climate-related aerosols.
    3. Common model development and evaluation. Air quality forecasting shares the same need to evaluate a forecast skill as a climate model does for its emission/input module for North America, Africa, and Asia.


  5. Major Collaborators and Their Research Foci
    1. Earth System Research Laboratory
      • Chemical Sciences Division: Measurement methods for aerosol optical and chemical properties; airborne field studies to characterize the "real world' aerosol properties and sources; and remote-sensing measurements of aerosols using both ground-based and airborne platforms; development of aerosol-cloud models; and model evaluation.
      • Global Monitoring Division: Trends of the vertical distribution of aerosols to show both natural and human-induced changes in type and abundance.
      • Physical Sciences Division: Aerosol-induced changes in rainfall patterns. ยท Global Systems Division: Next-generation particulate-matter forecast models.
    2. Other NOAA
      • Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab: Numerical radiative forcing and transport modeling.
      • Pacific Marine Environmental Lab: Oceanic aerosol composition measurements.
      • Air Resources Lab (North Carolina): Air quality models associated with aerosols, their dispersion and deposition, and the development of policy-support scenarios.
      • Office of Global Programs: Projects that couple NOAA and non-NOAA partners.
      • NESDIS: Satellite (e.g., NPOESS) observations and data sets of properties and global radiative effects of aerosols; water vapor and other atmospheric parameters; and regional smoke plumes.
      • NWS: NOAA Air Quality Forecasting Capability.
    3. Others
      • CIRES: Partnerships with the Research Themes: Regional Processes and Integrating Activities.
      • NASA and DOE: Partnership activities that include field studies and satellite science.

  6. Contributions to NOAA Goals
    • NOAA Strategic Plan FY 2005 - FY 2010. Performance Objective: "Reduce uncertainty in climate projections through timely information on the forcings and feedbacks contributing to changes in the Earth's climate." (p. 8)
    • NOAA Climate Goal (Program) FY 2006 Program Baseline Assessment (PBA), Climate Forcing Component". Performance Objective: "Provide timely adequate information on the climate roles of radiatively important trace atmospheric species (e.g., fine-particle aerosols) that is needed to broaden the suite of non-carbon options available for policy support regarding the climate change issue." (p. 69)
    • Weather and Water Strategic Plan. Calls on the Air Quality Program to "provide information to support effective air quality decision making' and "improve accuracy of air quality prediction models", which includes the capability to forecast particulate matter.
  7. Major Information Products, Customers, and Linkages
    • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Fourth Assessment Report (2007) is underway and will be used by decision makers nationally and worldwide with regard to the climate issue. The NOAA linkages include overall Chair of the Climate Change Science Working Group, chapter authors and contributors, and reviewers.
    • Interagency: The Subcommittees on Climate Change and on Air Quality have a series of decision-support products that involve aerosols. The customers include government and industry. NOAA researchers serving as Program Leaders and Chairs provide linkages.
    • Others: EPA and State and local Air Quality Forecast - Air Management agencies.