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Air Quality Models

image of Earth's atmosphere

Air quality models use mathematical and numerical techniques to simulate the physical and chemical processes that affect air pollutants as they disperse and react in the atmosphere. Based on inputs of meteorological data and source information like emission rates and stack height, these models are designed to characterize primary pollutants that are emitted directly into the atmosphere and, in some cases, secondary pollutants that are formed as a result of complex chemical reactions within the atmosphere. These models are important to our air quality management system because they are widely used by agencies tasked with controlling air pollution to both identify source contributions to air quality problems and assist in the design of effective strategies to reduce harmful air pollutants. For example, air quality models can be used during the permitting process to verify that a new source will not exceed ambient air quality standards or, if necessary, determine appropriate additional control requirements. In addition, air quality models can also be used to predict future pollutant concentrations from multiple sources after the implementation of a new regulatory program, in order to estimate the effectiveness of the program in reducing harmful exposures to humans and the environment.

The most commonly used air quality models include the following:

Dispersion Modeling - These models are typically used in the permitting process to estimate the concentration of pollutants at specified ground-level receptors surrounding an emissions source.

Photochemical Modeling - These models are typically used in regulatory or policy assessments to simulate the impacts from all sources by estimating pollutant concentrations and deposition of both inert and chemically reactive pollutants over large spatial scales.

Receptor Modeling - These models are observational techniques which use the chemical and physical characteristics of gases and particles measured at source and receptor to both identify the presence of and to quantify source contributions to receptor concentrations.

Additional Information about air quality models can be found at Related Links.


Office of Air and Radiation | Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards

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