Effect of land cover on atmospheric processes and air quality over the continental United States - a NASA Unified WRF (NU-WRF) model study

by Z Tao, J A Santanello, M Chin, S Zhou, Q Tan, E M Kemp, C D Peters-Lidard
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()


The land surface plays a crucial role in regulating water and energy fluxes at the land-atmosphere (L-A) interface and controls many processes and feedbacks in the climate system. Land cover and vegetation type remains one key determinant of soil moisture content that impacts air temperature, planetary boundary layer (PBL) evolution, and precipitation through soil-moisture-evapotranspiration coupling. In turn, it will affect atmospheric chemistry and air quality. This paper presents the results of a modeling study of the effect of land cover on some key L-A processes with a focus on air quality. The newly developed NASA Unified Weather Research and Forecast (NU-WRF) modeling system couples NASA's Land Information System (LIS) with the community WRF model and allows users to explore the L-A processes and feedbacks. Three commonly used satellite-derived land cover datasets - i.e., from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and University of Maryland (UMD), which are based on the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), and from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) - bear large differences in agriculture, forest, grassland, and urban spatial distributions in the continental United States, and thus provide an excellent case to investigate how land cover change would impact atmospheric processes and air quality. The weeklong simulations demonstrate the noticeable differences in soil moisture/temperature, latent/sensible heat flux, PBL height, wind, NO2/ozone, and PM2.5 air quality. These discrepancies can be traced to associate with the land cover properties, e.g., stomatal resistance, albedo and emissivity, and roughness characteristics. It also implies that the rapid urban growth may have complex air quality implications with reductions in peak ozone but more frequent high ozone events.

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