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Evaluation of the Ventilation Index in Complex Terrain: A Dispersion Modeling Study

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Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology


In this study, the Flexible Particle (FLEXPART)-WRF, a Lagrangian particle dispersion model, is employed to simulate pollutant dispersion in and near the LehighGap, a gap in a prominent ridgeline in eastern Pennsylvania. FLEXPART-WRF is used to evaluate the diagnostic value of the ventilation index (VI), an index that describes the potential for smoke or other pollutants to ventilate away from a source, for indicating dispersion potential in complex terrain. Little is known about the effectiveness of the ventilation index in diagnosing dispersion potential in complex terrain. The modeling approach used in this study is to release a dense cloud of particles across a portion of the model domain and evaluate particle behavior and VI diagnostic value in areas of the domain with differing terrain characteristics. Although both horizontal and vertical dispersion are examined, the study focuses primarily on horizontal dispersion, assessed quantitatively by calculating horizontal residence time (HRT) within a 1-km-radius circle surrounding the particle release point. Analysis of HRT across the domain reveals horizontal dispersion patterns that are influenced by the ridgeline and the Lehigh Gap. Comparison of VI and HRT in different areas of the domain reveals a robust relationship windward of the ridgeline and a weak relationship leeward of the ridgeline and in the vicinity of the Lehigh Gap. The results of this study suggest that VI users should consider whether they are windward or leeward of topographic features, and highlight the need for an alternative metric that better takes into account the influence of the terrain on dispersion.


Kiefer, Michael T.; Charney, Joseph J.; Zhong, Shiyuan; Heilman, Warren E.; Bian, Xindi; Hom, John L.; Patterson, Matthew. 2019. Evaluation of the Ventilation Index in Complex Terrain: A Dispersion Modeling Study. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. 58(3): 551-568.

Last updated on: March 8, 2019