Headline: Effect of VOC Emissions from Vegetation on Air Quality in Berlin during a Heatwave

The potential of emissions from urban vegetation combined with anthropogenic emissions to produce ozone and particulate matter has long been recognized. This potential increases with rising temperatures and may lead to severe problems with air quality in densely populated areas during heat waves. Here, we investigate how heat waves affect emissions of volatile organic compounds from urban/suburban vegetation and corresponding ground-level ozone and particulate matter. We use the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with atmospheric chemistry (WRF-Chem) with emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation simulated with MEGAN to quantify some of these feedbacks in Berlin, Germany, during the heat wave in 2006. The highest ozone concentration observed during that period was ∼200 μg/m3 (∼101 ppbV). The model simulations indicate that the contribution of biogenic VOC emissions to ozone formation is lower in June (9–11%) and August (6–9%) than in July (17–20%). On particular days within the analyzed heat wave period, this contribution increases up to 60%. The actual contribution is expected to be even higher as the model underestimates isoprene concentrations over urban forests and parks by 0.6–1.4 ppbv. Our study demonstrates that biogenic VOCs can considerably enhance air pollution during heat waves. We emphasize the dual role of vegetation for air quality and human health in cities during warm seasons, which is removal and lessening versus enhancement of air pollution. The results of our study suggest that reduction of anthropogenic sources of NOx, VOCs, and PM, for example, reduction of the motorized vehicle fleet, would have to accompany urban tree planting campaigns to make them really beneficial for urban dwellers.

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Academic Articles

Churkina, G., Kuik, F., Bonn, B., Lauer, A., Grote, R., Tomiak, K., & Butler, T. M. (2017). Effect of VOC Emissions from Vegetation on Air Quality in Berlin during a Heatwave. Environmental science & technology, 51(11), 6120-6130. doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b06514.

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Air Quality Modelling for Policy Advice