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Changes in the Frequency and Return Level of High Ozone Pollution Events Over the Eastern United States Following Emission Controls

Rieder, Harald; Fiore, Arlene M.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.; Lamarque, J.-F.; Fang, Y.

In order to quantify the impact of recent efforts to abate surface ozone (O3) pollution, we analyze changes in the frequency and return level of summertime (JJA) high surface O3 events over the eastern United States (US) from 1988–1998 to 1999–2009. We apply methods from extreme value theory (EVT) to maximum daily 8-hour average ozone (MDA8 O3) observed by the Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNet) and define O3 extremes as days on which MDA8 O3 exceeds a threshold of 75 ppb (MDA8 O3 greater than 75). Over the eastern US, we find that the number of summer days with MDA8 O3 greater than 75 declined on average by about a factor of two from 1988–1998 to 1999–2009. The applied generalized Pareto distribution (GPD) fits the high tail of MDA8 O3 much better than a Gaussian distribution and enables the derivation of probabilistic return levels (describing the probability of exceeding a value x within a time window T) for high O3 pollution events. This new approach confirms the significant decline in both frequency and magnitude of high O3 pollution events over the eastern US during recent years reported in prior studies. Our analysis of 1-yr and 5-yr return levels at each station demonstrates the strong impact of changes in air quality regulations and subsequent control measures (e.g., the 'NOx SIP Call'), as the 5-yr return levels of the period 1999–2009 correspond roughly to the 1-yr return levels of the earlier time period (1988–1998). Regionally, the return levels dropped between 1988–1998 and 1999–2009 by about 8 ppb in the Mid-Atlantic (MA) and Great Lakes (GL) regions, while the strongest decline, about 13 ppb, is observed in the Northeast (NE) region. Nearly all stations (21 out of 23) have 1-yr return levels well below 100 ppb and 5-yr return levels well below 110 ppb in 1999–2009. Decreases in eastern US O3 pollution are largest after full implementation of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) reductions under the 'NOx SIP Call'. We conclude that the application of EVT methods provides a useful approach for quantifying return levels of high O3 pollution in probabilistic terms, which may help to guide long-term air quality planning.

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Environmental Research Letters