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Weather Model to Help Monitor Devastating Ozone Pollution Levels in India

A U.S.-designed weather model is being used to determine the devastating impact of ozone pollution in countries such as India.

Data from such research could be used to develop new ozone pollution standards and to determine whether the pollution reduction efforts are working, researchers said.

A recent study showed that ozone is having a catastrophic effect on India's agricultural industry.

Ozone pollution ruined 6.7 million U.S. tons (6 million metric tons) of India's wheat, rice, soybean and cotton crops in 2005, according to the analysis done with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Smog and fog envelop the Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard, behind, as a policeman, center, controls traffic in the morning in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Ninety-four million people could have been fed if it wasn't for the more than $1 billion crop loss due to the pollution, scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NCAR discovered.

They used the chemistry version of NCAR's WRF model to develop their findings. It is the first time the model was used for a study specific to a nation and used actual crop production data, an NCAR researcher said.

One of the major uncertainties in chemistry simulations is the amount of the anthropogenic emissions from industry, transportation and everyday human activities, NCAR Postdoctoral Researcher Rajesh Kumar said.

"Specifically in the developing world, there is little information available," Kumar said. "To account for this uncertainty and provide an error estimate on the calculated ozone damage, the model was run with different estimates for emissions, which have been developed by various international groups."

The WRF-Chem model is also being used to study ozone in the United States, Kumar said.

"It is being used, for example, in the analysis of a major field campaign we conducted this summer in Colorado to learn more about the drivers behind high summertime ozone in the Colorado Front Range," he said.

"We would like to conduct a study on crop yield damage due to ozone over the U.S., but we do have many projects on the schedule and the question is when we will be able to get to it. Specifically, we would like to use output from high resolution climate and air quality simulations we ran over the U.S. to estimate the current and future crop yield damage due to ozone."

A couple descends from a garbage dumping ground as a blanket of dust and smoke covers the setting sun in New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. India launched the Air Quality Index to measure air quality across the nation that is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

The U.S. simulations, which were reported in May by NCAR researchers, showed that if emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from human activities continued at current levels through 2050, the number of eight-hour periods in which ozone would exceed 75 parts per billion (ppb) would jump by 70 percent on average across the United States by 2050. The 75 ppb level over eight hours is the threshold that is considered unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It would lead to a larger amount of days of unhealthy air across the U.S. However, a sharp reduction in the emissions of certain pollutants would lead to dramatically decreased levels of ozone even as temperatures rise, NCAR said.