Mechanisms of Air Pollution Transport in Urban Valleys as a Result of the Interplay Between the Temperature Inversion and the Urban Heat Island Effect

Monday, 15 December 2014
Angela Rendón1, Volkmar Wirth2, Juan Fernando Salazar1, Carlos A. Palacio1 and Björn Brötz2, (1)University of Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia, (2)Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany
Urban valleys can experience serious air pollution problems of concern for public health. The venting of pollution out of an urban valley is limited by the topography and can be further restricted by low-level temperature inversions and/or local circulations such as those induced by the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. The combined effects of a temperature inversion and a UHI on the dynamics of the atmospheric boundary layer and the associated mechanisms of air pollution transport in urban valleys were studied through idealized simulations performed with the EULAG model. Three different aspects were considered: the expansion of the urban area, variations in surface heating owing to topographic shading, and variations of the topography. The results show that different mechanisms of air pollution transport may arise in urban valleys as a result of the interplay between the temperature inversion, the slope flows, and the UHI. Three types of interrelated mechanisms of air pollution transport were identified. Type A describes the transport of pollutants by the slope winds, which can reduce pollution in the lower levels or reinforce the trapping of pollutants below the inversion layer depending on the UHI effect on weakening or reversing the upslope winds. Type B describes closed slope-flow circulations that are likely to occur below an inversion layer near the base of the sidewalls of valleys where an urban area is concentrated on the valley floor. These circulations can develop when upslope winds are detrained toward the center due to the inversion layer, or when the UHI forces downslope winds linked to ascending flows that are also restricted by the inversion layer. Pollutants can remain trapped within these circulation cells that have been termed smog traps. Type C describes a low-level UHI-induced circulation that tends to concentrate pollutants in the valley center and may cause the development of elevated polluted layers below the inversion layer. The persistence of these type of mechanisms could cause severe air pollution episodes in urban valleys. Despite the completely idealized framework adopted, this study provides evidence about a series of physical processes that are likely to occur in nature and agrees well with previous studies.