AIP AQ Unified Scenario

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This Air Quality Scenario integrates various themes. It emphasizes the common goals and needs of the various themes, while specifying 4 goals:

  1. Real-time large scale event analysis
  2. Assessment of international and intercontinental transport of air pollution
  3. Assimilation of observations for air quality forecasting
  4. Informing the public and the health sector about air quality in real-time or near-real-time


Air pollution is a global problem that causes premature mortality and morbidity, damages crops and ecosystems, and contributes to climate change. Furthermore, air pollution does not respect jurisdictional boundaries and is affected by sources and processes over local, regional, intercontinental, and global scales. In the United States alone, poor air quality is estimated to cause tens of thousands of deaths and cost society more than $100 billion annually. Globally, air pollution contributes to the deaths of more than 800 thousand people per year, most in the developing world. Recent scientific and technical advancements, including new observing and information technologies and insights into atmospheric processes, have created opportunities to better assess and manage air pollution and its impacts. Improved information about air quality enables policy-makers and environmental managers to develop more effective policies and plans to improve public health and well being, protect critical ecosystems, and maintain a vital economy. Enhanced air quality forecasts allow communities and individuals, especially those suffering from asthma, allergic diseases, cardiovascular disease, or pulmonary disease, to more effectively limit exposure and the adverse effects of poor air quality.

To better understand, forecast, and manage air pollution, there is a need to bring together information about

  • a variety of atmospheric constituents from different observational platforms (surface monitoring networks, satellites, sondes, ground-based remote sensors, aircraft, ...)
  • nonlinear chemical and physical atmospheric processes from meteorological and chemical transport models
  • emissions and emissions-generating activities
  • population demographics, exposure-related behavior, and health impacts

For scientific assessment and analysis of management strategies, this integration can be done using historical datasets. For air quality forecasting to inform the public and manage individual air pollution episodes or events, it is necessary to perform this integration in near real time.

This air quality use scenario envisions a cyberinfrastructure for air quality information that facilitates access, integration, and use of the information described above for purposes of air quality assessment and forecasting. A particular emphasis is placed on:

  • the near real time analysis of large air pollution events (such as those associated with large fires, dust storms, and regional air pollution episodes)
  • the assimilation of satellite observations to improve numerical forecast models and provide forecasts where ground-based monitors do not exist
  • the assessment of the international or intercontinental transport of air pollution
  • the provision of relevant information to the health community and the general public.

This scenario is consistent with project HE-07-03: Integrated Atmospheric Pollution Monitoring, Modelling, and Forecasting in the GEO 2007-2009 Work Plan, which includes efforts to:

  • Advocate a stable and improved in-situ and space-based observing system of global air quality in line with the Integrated Global Atmospheric Composition Observations (IGACO) recommendations.
  • Support WMO efforts related to increased spatial and temporal resolution. As a priority, evaluate and recommend strategies for an integrated sampling frame for air pollution.
  • Coordinate and facilitate appropriate activities and consortia that complement UNECE CLRTAP HTAP activities and pursue implementation of projects integrating Earth observation data on long range transport with other data, such as health and socio-economic data, to improve decision making.
  • Support the development of international systems for both sand and dust storm warning and biomass burning monitoring.
  • Coordinate the construction of a high spatial and temporal resolution monitoring and forecasting system including atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic observations, modelling and chemical data assimilation for global and local air quality.
  • Organise appropriate symposia in 2007.

This scenario is also consistent with the efforts of the CEOS Atmospheric Composition Constellation; the development of the GMES Atmospheric Service, GEMS, and its planned extensions; the evolution of AIRNow, IDEA, 3D-AQS, and Datafed; and other ongoing efforts.

Context and pre-conditions


The actors involved in the scenario come from a wide variety of types of institutions but may be classified into several different roles:

  • Earth Observations Providers - including National, State/Provincial, Local Environmental Management Agencies; National Meteorological Agencies; National Space Agencies; National Land Management Agencies; Industry; Consultants; Academic and Other Research Institutes; and international cooperative fora (e.g. WMO, CEOS, EEA, ...)
  • Other Related Information Providers - including National, State/Provincial, Local Commerce/Transportation/Energy/Land Use/Health Authorities; Industry; Consultants; Academic and Other Research Institutes
  • Air Quality Modelers, Forecasters, and Analysts - including National, State/Provincial, Local Environmental Management Agencies; National Meteorological Agencies; National Space Agencies; Industry; Consultants; Academic and Other Research Institutes; and international scientific cooperative fora or projects (e.g., IGAC, GEMS (and MACS), ECMWF, EMEP, ...)
  • Information Management Specialists - including National, State/Provincial, Local Environmental Management Agencies; National Meteorological Agencies; National Space Agencies; National Land Management Agencies; Industry; Consultants; Academic and Other Research Institutes
  • Other Consumers of Air Quality Information - including the general public; National, State/Provincial, and Local Health and Emergency Response Authorities; Academic and Independent Research Institutes (including health and environmental impacts research); Mass Media (including television, newspapers, radio, internet, ...)

Starting Information

Information available before scenario begins:

  • Meteorological data
    • Observations from ground-based networks, satellites, sondes
    • Forecasts from numerical models at the global and regional scales
  • Geographical data (land use, demographics, emissions-related activity, ...)
  • Atmopsheric Composition (Air Quality) Observations
    • Surface Monitoring Networks
    • Satellite Observations
    • Sondes
    • Ground-based remote sensors
    • Aircraft Measurements
  • Numerical Air Quality Chemical Transport Models (at regional to global scales)

Processing and Collaboration Functionality

  • Facilities to register all the components/services needed for the execution of the scenario.
  • Convenient portals for finding, accessing, visualizing, and processing observational and modeling data by analysts in near real time and for historical analysis
  • Data sharing and integration functionality including (1) registry/catalog for finding resources (2) standard-based access to spatio-temporal data and metadata, workflow software for integrating Service Components
  • Integration of multiple observational data sets to create rich 4-dimensional descriptions of the atmosphere to improve understanding of atmospheric processes
  • Comparison of observational data to numerical model estimates to improve numerical model descriptions of historical conditions (events or long-term trends)
  • Real-time assimilation of observational data into numerical models to improve numerical forecasts
  • A workspace to support the activities of the Air Quality Community of Practice participating in the Scenario
  • Effective mechanisms for distributing (in near real time) maps/images, descriptive information, and processed data health, emergency response, and air quality management authorities; to mass media; other research and assessment communities (e.g., health); and the general public.

Scenario Events

The cyberinfrastructure envisioned by this scenario will enable analysts to combine wide range of air quality observations, models, and other information to produce a variety of decision support products for a number of different audiences. Several specific types of products are described below:

Real-Time Large Scale Event Analysis (e.g. FASTNET, IDEA, SmogBlog)

Large-scale emission events (e.g., large fires, dust storms) and meteorological conditions can produce significant air pollution episodes on regional to intercontinental scales. Designated analysts will use a 'virtual observatory' to monitor air quality conditions over assigned regions of the world, using real-time satellite images, data from surface monitors, and other information. Once an ‘interesting’ event occurs, the analysts will compile relevant data to explore the origin and evolution of the pollution and share their analysis on a virtual workspace. Combining air quality observations and meteorological forecasts, analysts may be able to qualitatively forecast the evolution of the episode. Using standardized Common Notification Protocols, analysts may issue alerts to trigger exposure or impact mitigation actions or to trigger additional intensive monitoring, forecast modeling, or other additional analyses.

Assessment of International and Intercontinental Transport of Air Pollution (e.g. HTAP Data Network)

To better understand intercontinental transport in the Northern Hemisphere, the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution has organized a series of cooperative analysis efforts including a model intercomparison exercise, which to date involves more than 25 global modeling groups and for which a data server has been established at FZ Juelich; a compilation of relevant surface observations, which is being developed by NILU as a component of EBAS; a compilation of relevant aircraft campaign observations, which is being developed by NASA Langley; and an updated version of the EDGAR global emissions inventory. These cooperative efforts would be enhanced by constructing linkages between the various databases and other existing air quality-related data hubs (e.g., Datafed and GIOVANNI) and developing tools to enable comparison of models, observations, and emissions. Such visualization and analysis tools may build upon existing tools (e.g., AMET, RSIG, and HemiTap Tool). While these efforts will directly benefit the HTAP assessment, the connectivity and tools developed as part of this effort will be applicable to model evaluation and analysis at the regional scale as well, benefiting a large community of air quality managers and researchers.

Assimilation of Observations for Air Quality Forecasting (e.g. GEMS, RAQMS)

To improve the accuracy of air quality forecasting, it is necessary to build upon the real-time connectivity and model-data comparisons discussed above and to assimilate observations into numerical simulation models in real-time. There are a number of existing efforts to use satellite observations to provide the initial conditions for numerical models producing air quality forecasts for the next 24-72 hours. Developing standard approaches and protocols for such processes will help expand the use of assimilation techniques, improving air quality forecasts for the benefit of all. Assimilation of satellite observations into numerical models may also enable “nowcasting” surface air quality in areas that do not have surface air quality monitors, which is the situation in much of the developing world.

Informing the public and the health sector about air quality in real-time or near-real-time
(e.g. AIRNow, PHASE)

In addition to supporting the analytical work of air quality managers and scientists, the envisioned cyberinfrastructure will also facilitate the provision of useful information to the health community and the general public. By providing real-time and forecasted air quality information to the public, individuals can make decisions to protect themselves from harmful exposures. Historical, real-time, and forecasted air quality information can also help health authorities assess public health impacts of air pollution episodes and respond to extreme events. For the general public, a number of existing programs (e.g. AIRNow) provide color-coded air quality indices based on real-time surface monitoring and quantitative and qualitative forecasts. This easy-to-understand information can be distributed via mass media, internet, and telecommunications (e.g. EnviroFlash), using Common Notification Protocols. For the health community, some pilot efforts have been made to understand and provide data that is most useful for exposure and health impact assessment (e.g. PHASE). Efforts to capture lessons learned from these existing efforts and to develop standard approaches and protocols will help air quality management agencies expand the amount of air quality information available to the public and interested communities.

Archive: Older Scenario Versions

  1. GEOSS_AIP_Pilot_-_Initial_Scenario
  2. AIP AQ Scenario A: Smoke and Dust
  3. AIP AQ Scenario B: Model - Data Synthesis
  4. AIP AQ Scenario C: forecasts