Forecasting urban PM10 and PM2.5 pollution episodes in very stable nocturnal conditions and complex terrain using WRF-Chem CO tracer model

Pablo E. Saide, Gregory R. Carmichael, Scott N. Spak, Laura Gallardo, Axel E. Osses, Marcelo A. Mena-Carrasco, Mariusz Pagowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Citations (Scopus)


This study presents a system to predict high pollution events that develop in connection with enhanced subsidence due to coastal lows, particularly in winter over Santiago de Chile. An accurate forecast of these episodes is of interest since the local government is entitled by law to take actions in advance to prevent public exposure to PM10 concentrations in excess of 150 μg m-3 (24 h running averages). The forecasting system is based on accurately simulating carbon monoxide (CO) as a PM10/PM2.5 surrogate, since during episodes and within the city there is a high correlation (over 0.95) among these pollutants. Thus, by accurately forecasting CO, which behaves closely to a tracer on this scale, a PM estimate can be made without involving aerosol-chemistry modeling. Nevertheless, the very stable nocturnal conditions over steep topography associated with maxima in concentrations are hard to represent in models. Here we propose a forecast system based on the WRF-Chem model with optimum settings, determined through extensive testing, that best describe both meteorological and air quality available measurements. Some of the important configurations choices involve the boundary layer (PBL) scheme, model grid resolution (both vertical and horizontal), meteorological initial and boundary conditions and spatial and temporal distribution of the emissions. A forecast for the 2008 winter is performed showing that this forecasting system is able to perform similarly to the authority decision for PM10 and better than persistence when forecasting PM10 and PM2.5 high pollution episodes. Problems regarding false alarm predictions could be related to different uncertainties in the model such as day to day emission variability, inability of the model to completely resolve the complex topography and inaccuracy in meteorological initial and boundary conditions. Finally, according to our simulations, emissions from previous days dominate episode concentrations, which highlights the need for 48 h forecasts that can be achieved by the system presented here. This is in fact the largest advantage of the proposed system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2769-2780
Number of pages12
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Data assimilation
  • Deterministic model
  • PM10 and pM2.5 forecast
  • Santiago de chile
  • WRF-Chem cO tracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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