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South American Emissions, Mega-cities, and Climate PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 May 2010



South American Emissions, Mega-cities,




Climate Closing meeting,


Buenos Aires (May 19-21 2010)





Last week, we held our closing meeting in downtown Buenos Aires, the first South American mega city. This meeting had still another intensive schedule with plenty of stuff to be told and thought about. In addition to our growing team, many decision makers and colleagues from Buenos Aires attended the meeting on Thursday morning. It was a time of evaluation of the work achieved, and a lot of new energy for assuming new challenges, and a few pending tasks. By Friday evening we were exhausted but greatly satisfied, and hopeful. Here you can find a summary of what has been achieved so far as well as new ideas as this team has grown and evolved. In the coming weeks you will read more papers, new projects, new scientists and engineers getting their degrees and a growing communication with policy makers.


Thanks to all who have given the required wo/man power in this endeavor: keep up the good work!. Thanks to the Center for Mathematical Modeling at the University of Chile for hosting and promoting this project. Thanks to the key-support provided by the IAI, the one institution that has made it possible to build a South American network on Mega cities, Emissions and Climate.


Background and brief project description

Air pollution is a daily, and often visible, experience for a large fraction of the South American population. Today roughly 83% of South Americans live in urban areas, compared to only 43% in 1950. Typically, the major urban centers accumulate wealth but also environmental problems, which poses for South Americans a distinct vulnerability in a changing climate. The deteriorating air quality in South American mega-cities has received increasing attention from local decision makers, scientists and the general public. Until recently though, these efforts have been largely decoupled from international efforts. The Inter American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI, http://www.iai.int) has provided the means to establish the South American Emissions Mega-cities and Climate (SAEMC, CNRII 2017, http://saemc.cmm.uchile.cl) project, which is a Collaboration Research Network for the period 2006-2010 (CRN 2017), involving researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and counterparts in Europe and the United States of America. SAEMC represents an unprecedented opportunity for strengthening and coordinating regional research capabilities, connecting regional and global efforts, and providing sound scientific basis for sustainable policies. In addition to this, IAI funded a two-year project (2007-2009), Adaptation to health impacts of air pollution and climate extremes in Latin American cities (ADAPTE), providing a stronger human dimension value to the original project with emphasis on health impacts.

The SAEMC network is organized around the following research axes: Mobile and Stationary emissions scenarios estimate and evaluation; Dynamical down-scaling of climate change scenarios; Pilot implementation of chemical weather forecasting network and tools for South American mega-cities; Prospective characterization of aerosols in and downwind from South American mega-cities; High Performance and Grid Computing for operational chemical weather forecasting. ADAPTE seeks to understand the independent and combined effects of heat/cold stress, air pollution and social vulnerability on the health of populations in the cities of Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Mexico City, and Santiago. Hereby we highlight our main findings and results, discuss continuity and share our concerns and insights.

Scientific highlights

We were able to build working teams around five research axes: emissions, chemical weather forecasting and modeling tools, including grid and high performance computing, aerosols and health impacts. A brief summary and a few examples follow.


Measurement campaigns intended to characterize vehicular emissions in Santiago, Bogotá, São Paulo and Buenos Aires were performed allowing the compilation of locally representative emission factors, which made it possible to create the first inventory for vehicular emissions for Buenos Aires (e.g., D’Angiola et al, 2009). Also, tools were developed to obtain temporal and spatial distributions of emissions (e.g., Saide et al, 2009 a); Martins et al, 2010). Past and future emission scenarios were completed for Argentina, and they have initiated for other cities. Evaluation tools based on inverse modeling and data assimilation techniques have been developed and applied at the local and the regional scales (Saide et al, 2009 b; Hoelzemann et al, 2009). Finally, a systematic effort for reconciliating global and local inventories (Alonso et al, 2010). All of these data are now scrutinized via peer-review and becoming available for the whole community, and increasingly integrated to global databases.

Chemical weather forecasting and grid-computing

When our project started there was a well established regional transport model for South America specially developed for addressing transport and dispersion and impacts of biomass burning emissions in tropical South America (Freitas, et al., 2005, Longo et al., 2006). Regional weather services had some experience in numerical prediction for physical weather but none in chemical weather forecasting. Today, there is a fully coupled model that provides on a daily basis chemical weather forecasting for South America (Freitas et al., 2009, Longo et al., 2010), and produces regionally relevant meteorological and chemical boundary conditions for local applications. Also, both at the Chilean and Peruvian Weather Services, there are chemical weather forecasting tools, including the Brazilian model, available and operational, and more important dedicated teams. Furthermore, the basis for a community model is now feasible via the use of an already installed but very under-exploited high-speed internet connection among South American countries and the rest of the world (D’Almeida et al, 2010).

Aerosol characterization

Existing air quality monitoring networks provide more or less regularly mass concentration for the different cities, which allow at best the fulfillment or not of air quality standards. However, if information is needed to address health impacts, climate perturbations, and even identifying emitters, or in general any process understanding, one needs morphological and speciation information. This in turn requires of sophisticated instrumentation and chemical analysis capabilities that are usually very expensive. Thus, we wanted to see to what extent we were able to combine existent resources. In fact, for marginal costs we were able to compile and evaluate information on the chemical and physical characterization of aerosols from Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo and Bogotá. This has been possible thanks to coordinated sampling activities and sharing of analytical resources including trace metals (Argentina), organics (Sao Paulo) and ions (Bogotá). Also, advances have been made regarding the physico-chemical characterization of diesel particles by means of transmission microscopy.

Health impacts

Cities and climate are coevolving in a manner that could place more populations at risk from exposure to extreme temperature and air pollution. Key urban areas of Latin America are projected to be increasingly affected by heat-waves, yet, we do not know how vulnerable to those health impacts urban populations currently are, i.e., what their current - baseline - vulnerability is. The ADAPTE team has gathered, validated and analyzed data on temperature, air pollution and vulnerability including: a) an exploratory time series analysis to identify main patterns of the health, weather, and air pollution data; b) a generalized linear model (GLM) with Poisson log-linear distribution to measure changes in the Relative Risk (RR) of health outcomes such as mortality due to changes in temperature and air pollution; c) a geospatial assessment of differential patterns of vulnerability within the urban centers (Romero-Lankao et al, work in progress).

Also, in Sao Paulo, advances have been made to combine air quality models and morbidity and mortality statistics, improving both diagnostics and prognostics capabilities in our cities (e.g., Doprichinski-Martins, 2009).

What’s next?

We have been very successful in connecting South American scientists and students, also at establishing a two-way connection between scientists in South America and “First World” centers. Very importantly, we have used the majority of our IAI resources in fellowships for very good students, some of which are now themselves starting to be leading scientists who can more easily interconnect through countries and between science and policy making. For all cities, we have been successful in producing relevant information and implementing tools for scientific understanding and policy making, being Bogotá an outstanding case regarding policy. At last but not least, we have shown that sharing and using available resources is feasible and that the integrated sum of those is larger than the sum of the individual resources.

Regarding the future we foresee continued developments around:

  • The establishment of community model including shared computing and storage capabilities, which of course does not preclude the use of other tools but put an emphasis on the establishment and use of local know-how. For instance, which is the adequate aerosol/photochemical model for South American cities where biofuel is so prevalent? How do we handle extremely stable boundary layers along the Andes?

  • Permanent initiave on emission inventories as dynamical tools, locally and regionally representative (not mere collections of numbers of loosely traceable origin), that evolve according to systematic, transparent and recurrent evaluations.

  • Coordination for providing recurrent aerosol and gas phase chemistry characterization for process understanding and impact assessments. This is badly required to address aerosol-cloud-climate interactions, as well as impacts on human health and ecosystems.

  • Air quality monitoring is probably among the most resource intensive activities. Therefore, it is crucial to have tools to facilitate the decision making and to actually optimize the design of monitoring networks. This is also needed when one wants to use multiple platforms, for instance and increasingly, in situ measurements and remote sensing. We have explored the use of both variational and statistical methods to design and evaluate monitoring networks, and we foresee future developments very relevant for existing networks and especially for networks to come.

  • From the climate change aspects, South America countries need a feasible forecast tool tuned for this area and relevant associated processes to support governmental and civil societies. Important questions to be addressed, among others, are: how the global warming and land use/land cover changes will affect the air quality of the densely urbanized areas; how about the impact of the aerosols and the urban island heat on the hydrological cycles on local and regional scales; what is the contribution of South America to global changes?

At this point we have accumulated a very successful experience of south-south and south-north collaboration, despite the weak bureaucratic infrastructure available at our institutions, and therefore we consider it feasible to expand this network to other countries in the region, and to connect more strongly with similar projects in other regions of the world. To do this, we will certainly need to convey national and international resources but most importantly we need the support of the one agency capable of supporting an Inter American network.

Science and policy making: local and global connections

Except in Brazil, Earth System Science capabilities in South America are sparse and often times isolated. This also applies to more specific air pollution science and expertise. Typically, research teams consist of a few of scientists and students, who deal with probably too broad a range of subjects and with opportunity funding related to short term consultancies and small scientific grants. Policy makers have technical secretaries and personnel who are also overwhelmed by intricate bureaucratic procedures, funding and political pressures. No wonder, environmental policies often times in lack of local knowledge tend to mimic experiences from elsewhere, usually those from the US Environmental Protection Agency. That is very successful at first but absolutely insufficient when dealing with less obvious and much more expensive measures, for instance those related to traffic emissions control and urban planning considering a changing climate. In almost all of our large urban centers, multimillion US dollar investments are made in air quality monitoring, building of emission inventories, aerosol characterization, health and ecological impact assessments, etc.. However, databases are difficult to maintain, lack appropriate calibration and reporting procedures, etc.. As the connection between policy making and research is usually made on the basis of short-term consultancies, the establishment of necessary synergies and the study of more complex issues are hampered, and at times air pollution scientists are not able to provide independent opinions to environmental authorities.

Again, except in Brazil, material and human resources for global change research in South America on a country-by-country basis are far too small to allow a significant contribution to international programs and to produce sustained impacts in local development. Nevertheless, global change science cannot be approached solely from a global perspective. On the contrary, turning points are to be found and faced locally. To illustrate this, let’s consider the apparently simple issue of conciliating local and global emission inventories. Today’s global chemistry-climate models that provide climate change scenarios are based on emission estimates for year 2000 and projections, which are far from reflecting the actual development in large cities not even that relevant for year 2000. Still, local inventories are available for most cities in South America. Is it a matter of not sharing information? Yes, to some extent due to too small an overlap of communities, something that is fortunately improving year by year, but also because it is non-trivial combing different scales in a non-linear system (e.g., Alonso et al, 2010).

All in all, it is clear that there is a mutual benefit for scientists and policy makers in combining efforts and exchanging perspectives, beyond short-term consultancies and perhaps creating consortia which provide a common but independent framework for sound science and policy making. It is also obvious that the understanding of global change requires of local knowledge that is not feasible without the participation and leadership of local scientists, which in turn requires of their integration to global programs and investment in local capabilities, both human and material. At this point is worth noticing that what SAEMC has achieved in 4 years with less than 1 million dollars is comparable in quality, not in volume, to what is achieved in Europe and North America for many times that number.

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