AIR POLLUTION EMISSIONS FROM HIGHWAY VEHICLES: QUANTIFYING IMPACTS OF HUMIDITY, AMBIENT TEMPERATURE, AND COVID-19–RELATED TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

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2022

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Abstract

Air pollution adversely affects human health and climate at both local and regional scales. With vehicles representing the dominant source of several important air pollutants, more work is needed to improve our understanding of the factors impacting vehicular emissions to further reduce pollution levels. In this dissertation, I use ambient, near-road (NR) observations of nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), black carbon (BC), carbon dioxide (CO2), and traffic to characterize vehicular emissions and the influence of weather and traffic patterns. The first part focuses on how vehicular emissions respond to ambient temperature. The second part investigates traffic pattern changes resulting from COVID-19 travel restrictions and the effects on mobile emissions.Chapter 2 discusses the temperature and specific humidity sensitivity of vehicular NOx, CO, and CO2 emissions. Using NR (along Interstate 95) observations during the cold season, I calculated hourly ΔCO/ΔNOx, ΔCO2/ΔNOx, and ΔCO2/ΔCO ratios to infer emissions ratios from vehicular exhaust. Chapter 3 builds on this work by extending the temperature analysis to BC emissions using ∆BC/∆CO and ∆BC/∆CO2. Results show a factor of two decrease in NOx (−5°C to 25°C) and a ~50% increase in BC emissions (−5°C to 20°C). Combined with traffic observations, we trace this effect to diesel-powered trucks. The observed trends are then used to evaluate the temperature sensitivity in modeled mobile emissions. Important public policy decisions regarding air quality often depend on models that generate accurate emissions estimates from various sectors, including mobile sources. The US EPA estimates vehicular emissions for air quality models using the MOtor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES). Our analysis shows that MOVES underestimates the temperature effect in NOx emissions and does not adjust BC emissions, indicating that more work is needed to improve the temperature sensitivity in the model. Chapter 4 examines the impact of changing traffic patterns on I-95 in April 2020 on mobile emissions revealing ~60% fewer on-road cars and ~10% fewer trucks, resulting in faster highway speeds and less stop-and-go traffic. Coupled with an analysis of emission ratios, the results of this study suggest a significant decrease in BC emissions from diesel-powered trucks attributable to improved traffic flow.

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