Atmospheric Composition and Air Quality

At the forefront of remote sensing and modeling, AER is contributing to a better understanding of global climate change.

International space agencies, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Health Effects Institute (HEI), top academic institutions, and major industry groups partner with Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) staff at the forefront of research and development in air quality and atmospheric composition including greenhouse gases.

Besides carbon dioxide (CO2) we analyze other greenhouse gases that are key contributors to global warming, including methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Regional atmospheric transport model analyzes greenhouse gas sources

In order to quantify the contribution of greenhouse gases to global warming, it is important to understand the distribution of their sources and sinks. AER has developed a number of tools and techniques to address these questions. The regional atmospheric transport model WRF-STILT, developed by AER and other institutions, [Nehrkorn et al. 2010], when coupled with atmospheric trace gas measurements from in situ, aircraft, and satellite platforms can be used to quantify surface fluxes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases at policy-relevant regional scales [Kort et al., 2008; Zhao et al., 2009].

AER is an active participant in several satellite-based remote sensing missions that provide observations of greenhouse gases. These include:

  • NASA instruments:  Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) aboard the AURA satellite and Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard the Aqua satellite
  • European Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) instrument
  • Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT)

Global modeling and chemistry

AER is a leader in the development and application of numerical models that incorporate chemical, transport, and dynamic processes of the atmosphere.  As early as the 1970’s, AER developed and applied one-, two-, and three-dimensional numerical models to analyze the depletion of stratospheric ozone.  Our scientists have also studied the chemistries and global cycles of sulfur, fluorine, and metals.

Health Effects Institute air quality research support

AER provides the air quality analysis and operational management of key websites and research programs for the Health Effects Institute (HEI), a nonprofit research organization that provides science on the health effects of air pollution.  Many of HEI‘s research programs are funded by EPA and the motor vehicle industry.

  • HEI Air Quality Database
    The HEI Air Quality Database, funded by HEI and prepared and maintained by AER, focuses on levels of pollutants at 54 sites in the EPA PM2.5 Chemical Speciation Trends Network (STN).
  • Relationships of Indoor, Outdoor, and Personal Air (RIOPA) Database
    The RIOPA database and study, co-funded by HEI and the National Urban Air Toxics Research Center (NUATRC), were conducted in three cities with different air pollution source profiles: Los Angeles, Calif.; Houston, Tex.; and Elizabeth, N.J.

Urban Toxics air quality research support

  • Toxic Exposure Assessment: A Columbia/Harvard (TEACH) Database
    The TEACH database is developed and maintained by AER on behalf of the Mickey Leland National Urban Air Toxics Research Center.

AER researchers are improving the MET data input to dispersion models

Today, more than ever, it is critical to be able to predict the location and concentration of pollutants or toxic substances released accidentally or purposefully in the atmosphere. Tools such as HPAC, SCIPUFF, CMAQ, STILT and others are designed for this purpose. These models can be used in real time and for planning purposes. The quality of their forecasts is limited by knowledge of the initial release and the meteorological (MET) parameters, principally winds and stability. AER scientists use these models routinely for air quality studies. AER has developed and continues to develop improved MET data for these models. Improved interfaces that capture the most appropriate scales and variability of the winds and other MET parameters are based on years of experience with numerical weather prediction (NWP) models and ensemble techniques.

R&D Capabilities

Our specific expertise includes:

  • Atmospheric composition and surface fluxes, including greenhouse gases and air toxics
  • Ozone and other photochemical smog pollutants
  • Visibility degradation (including plume opacity)
  • Indoor air pollution

AER's atmospheric composition and air quality capabilities include:

  • Sensing and analyzing atmospheric composition and surface fluxes
  • Developing computer models and simulations
  • Analyzing data
  • Monitoring program design