Modeling Air Pollution From Aircraft Emissions in an Expanding Plume

EPA Grant Number: FP917437
Title: Modeling Air Pollution From Aircraft Emissions in an Expanding Plume
Investigators: Cameron, Mary A
Institution: Stanford University
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Atmospheric Sciences , Academic Fellowships


Because aircraft plumes change shape with time and meteorology, it is difficult to measure their effects on air pollution. The purpose of this research is to use computational modeling techniques to investigate how individual aircraft exhaust plumes change atmospheric chemistry and physics. Results from 3-D global simulations will be used to predict more accurately the transport and chemical evolution of exhaust plumes.


This research will couple atmospheric models with sub-grid plume emissions to treat individually the emissions from more than 30 million annual flights worldwide. This requires first determining an accurate, yet computationally inexpensive method for modeling single aircraft emissions as an expanding plume. With parallelization and a highly efficient chemistry solver, a more extensive chemical mechanism will be included to track thousands of reactions occurring in each plume. Next, 3-D global and regional simulations initialized with flight data will identify regions where aircraft emissions concentrate due to transport and meteorology.

Expected Results:

It is expected that tracking emissions using sub-grid layered plumes will yield very different results than simulations where emissions are added uniformly to much larger atmospheric model grid scales. By tracking these plumes, it is possible to avoid the initial dilution that would otherwise occur when pairing an atmospheric model with emissions data. Especially near airports and busy flight paths, it is important that the emissions from multiple flights are distinct yet able to mix, more realistically changing pollution concentrations and chemical reactions at each time step. Results from this research are expected to show that refining the plume will significantly affect air pollution estimates near airports and heavy air-traffic areas, where humans can be most affected.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

The results from this research will be useful in seeing where and what types of emissions concentrate in different regions. For example, in the United States and Europe, where air traffic is particularly dense, it will be important to see where particulate matter and ozone levels are elevated due to aviation. These results particularly will be important to airport employees and neighborhoods near airports where air quality is a health concern, as well as areas further away from airports, where wind-blown emissions may pollute bodies of water, agricultural lands, forests or neighboring cities.

Supplemental Keywords:

aircraft, air pollution, chemistry model

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final