Study Concludes Warming Climate Will Increase Ozone Levels in Major California Air Basins; Climate Change and Regional Air Quality Are Intertwined Problems

Illustration of projected ozone changes in the South Coast region due to climate change in 2050. Areas in orange and red could see ozone concentrations elevated by 9 to 18 parts per billion. Click to enlarge.

In a new report released by the California Air Resources Board, scientists from the University of California at Davis and Berkeley estimate that rising temperatures from climate change will increase ozone levels in California’s major air basins.

The study also predicts that peak concentrations of dangerous airborne particles will increase in the San Joaquin Valley due to the effects of climate change on wind patterns.

We already know that climate change will bring us increased forest fires, shorter winters, hotter summers and impact our water supply. Now we have scientific evidence that higher temperatures are hurting our lungs, too. To protect public health, we need to take cost-effective measures to slash greenhouse gases now and continue to ratchet down all sources of smog-forming emissions and harmful soot and particles.

—Mary D. Nichols, ARB chairman

The new study provides evidence of what is becoming known as the “climate penalty”, where rising temperatures increase ground level ozone and airborne health-damaging particles, despite the reductions achieved by programs targeting smog-forming emissions from cars, trucks and industrial sources.

Authors of the study found that California could experience as many as 6 to 30 more days with ozone concentrations that exceed federal clean-air standards, depending on the extent of increased temperatures and assuming criteria-pollutant emissions in California remain at 1990-2004 levels.

Our study reveals that climate change and regional air pollution are intertwined problems. We must consider climate change and air pollution together as we plan for the future.

—Dr. Michael J. Kleeman of UC Davis, lead author

The researchers predicted the effects of climate change on California regions by merging the results from large-scale global models with detailed models for the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley. These narrow-focused models utilize high-resolution information about the geography, meteorology and emissions of these areas.

Failure in the future to reduce ozone and particulate matter levels to federally-required health-based levels could lead to the loss of transportation funds used by the state to maintain and develop roadways.

On a positive note, the study also found that climate change would decrease annual-average particulate-matter concentrations in coastal regions of the state.


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