Modeling regional air quality and climate: improving organic aerosol and aerosol activation processes in WRF/Chem version 3.7.1
Abstract. Air quality and climate influence each other through the uncertain processes of aerosol formation and cloud droplet activation. In this study, both processes are improved in the Weather, Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry (WRF/Chem) version 3.7.1. The existing Volatility Basis Set (VBS) treatments for organic aerosol (OA) formation in WRF/Chem are improved by considering the following: the secondary OA (SOA) formation from semi-volatile primary organic aerosol (POA), a semi-empirical formulation for the enthalpy of vaporization of SOA, and functionalization and fragmentation reactions for multiple generations of products from the oxidation of VOCs. Over the continental US, 2-month-long simulations (May to June 2010) are conducted and results are evaluated against surface and aircraft observations during the Nexus of Air Quality and Climate Change (CalNex) campaign. Among all the configurations considered, the best performance is found for the simulation with the 2005 Carbon Bond mechanism (CB05) and the VBS SOA module with semivolatile POA treatment, 25 % fragmentation, and the emissions of semi-volatile and intermediate volatile organic compounds being 3 times the original POA emissions. Among the three gas-phase mechanisms (CB05, CB6, and SAPRC07) used, CB05 gives the best performance for surface ozone and PM2. 5 concentrations. Differences in SOA predictions are larger for the simulations with different VBS treatments (e.g., nonvolatile POA versus semivolatile POA) compared to the simulations with different gas-phase mechanisms. Compared to the simulation with CB05 and the default SOA module, the simulations with the VBS treatment improve cloud droplet number concentration (CDNC) predictions (normalized mean biases from −40.8 % to a range of −34.6 to −27.7 %), with large differences between CB05–CB6 and SAPRC07 due to large differences in their OH and HO2 predictions. An advanced aerosol activation parameterization based on the Fountoukis and Nenes (2005) series reduces the large negative CDNC bias associated with the default Abdul Razzak and Ghan (2000) parameterization from −35.4 % to a range of −0.8 to 7.1 %. However, it increases the errors due to overpredictions of CDNC, mainly over the northeastern US. This work indicates a need to improve other aerosol–cloud–radiation processes in the model, such as the spatial distribution of aerosol optical depth and cloud condensation nuclei, in order to further improve CDNC predictions.