Community Multiscale Air Quality Modeling

Getting an Upgrade to Protect Air Quality

CMAQ_EM_magazine

EPA scientist Havala Pye uses CMAQ to show emissions related to vegetation in the Southeast United States.

By Dina Abdulhadi

What technology upgrades matter to you? Most people I know get excited about their new phones: faster speeds, better cameras, and new traffic apps, to name a few.

You know that camera on your old phone? The images were pixelated; if you zoomed in, you could not see the details of your dog’s whiskers or the horizon on a smoggy day. Just like your new phone with a better camera, scientists have an upgrade to an important tool used to visualize the earth’s atmosphere.

With this major upgrade to an atmospheric model – the Community Multi-scale Air Quality model (CMAQv5.1) – researchers and air quality managers have improved options to understand how air pollution moves throughout the atmosphere locally, nationally, and globally. The upgrade provides air quality managers an even more powerful tool to evaluate air quality and protect the air we breathe.

For example, one new option is like the zoom feature on a cell phone camera. “Zooming out,” researchers can see how multiple air pollutants—including ozone, particulate matter (PM), and several air toxics—move across the Northern Hemisphere. This expanded scale helps to see what actions can be taken locally or nationally to improve air quality.  Researchers can also “zoom in” using the model to the city or neighborhood scale, where CMAQ can help identify pockets prone to higher air pollution. Modeling pollution at this smaller scale allows researchers to estimate pollution exposures more accurately, which can be used to determine air pollution risks to health.

While people are not standing in long lines outside of a retail store for this latest version, the model is used worldwide to conduct air quality research and to make decisions on how best to protect air quality.

CMAQ was first launched 15 years ago, and since then, air quality has improved with the use of this and other tools. More recently, CMAQ was used to determine the impact of EPA’s new standards for car emissions and fuels. The standards aim to reduce sulfur in gasoline by 60 percent starting in 2017, helping avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths per year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.

Researchers are using the model to learn more about what air pollution can do to our health. By using CMAQ to estimate ozone levels across North Carolina, for example, researchers found that ozone concentrations may be linked with an increased risk of lower birthweights in rural and urban areas. By estimating the levels of PM and ozone exposures over time for farmers in North Carolina and Iowa, researchers also found a potential elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Science and technology constantly advances, and in turn it changes how we think about the world and our environment. Powerful tools like CMAQv5.1 are making a big difference in protecting public health and the environment and will continue to evolve, much like the technology we use every day to connect with friends and family, find out if it will rain, and even get a daily forecast of air quality using the Air Quality Index.

 

For more information: http://bit.ly/EPA-CMAQ  

About the author: Dina Abdulhadi works with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science Wednesday – Modeling Matters: See Mack Run the Half-Marathon

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Tanya Otte

Lots of people like running. I’m not one of them…unless it involves running models! Since I was hired, I’ve been a part of a team that develops and runs models to help understand interactions between meteorology, natural and anthropogenic (“human-caused”) emissions, and air quality. The heartbeat of the air quality model development occurs in EPA’s Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Division and with the Community Multiscale Air Quality Modeling (CMAQ) system, the Nation’s premier air quality simulation model.

CMAQ (pronounced “see mack”), a state-of-the-science tool for air quality modeling, was first publically released in 1998 by the EPA, and it now boasts a worldwide community of more than 3,700 users in 95 countries. CMAQ has been used by the EPA and by state environmental agencies to support air quality policy decisions. Nations around the world use CMAQ to study air pollution issues and create air quality management strategies. CMAQ provides daily ozone forecast guidance issued by the National Weather Service. The CMAQ user community spectrum spans academia, government, and private industry. CMAQ is one of the most widely respected modeling tools of its genre.

This month, EPA is releasing CMAQ 5.0. Major updates to CMAQ, like this, occur about every three years. CMAQ 5.0 incorporates the latest developments in air quality science, and it can be used to examine the interactions between air quality and climate. One of the biggest advances in CMAQ 5.0 is a comprehensive and synchronized coupling of meteorology and air chemistry to more accurately simulate the feedbacks between weather and air pollution.

This month, EPA also celebrates the 10th anniversary of its partnership with the Community Modeling and Analysis System (CMAS) Center. CMAS has been the conduit for public releases of CMAQ, and they have been instrumental in brokering international scientific contributions to CMAQ. CMAS has provided training and online support for the CMAQ community, and they host an annual workshop dedicated to exchanging the most updated scientific findings. This year’s workshop takes place October 24-26, and more than 250 participants have registered.

CMAQ just completed the half-marathon (measured in years, not miles). With a strong team at the EPA and a diverse and growing community of international collaborators, CMAQ will be running the race for many years to come!

About the author: Tanya Otte, a research physical scientist, has worked at EPA in atmospheric modeling and analysis since 1998.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.