BSC develops the first air quality model created in Spain to join the European Union's Copernicus program

05 July 2022

MONARCH, developed at BSC, will be one of the most advanced atmospheric air quality models in Europe that will contribute to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the European Union's Earth observation program.

The model's addition to Copernicus' European air quality forecasts will be critical to administrations' management of the serious problem of air pollution, which is considered the largest environmental health risk and was responsible for 364,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2019.

The inclusion of MONARCH in the service that provides air quality information to policy makers and citizens across Europe is a success that demonstrates the added value of the research carried out in the Earth Sciences department of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

The MONARCH air quality model, developed by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) and run on the MareNostrum supercomputer, has become the first air quality model created in Spain to contribute to the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). CAMS provides free and open access to atmospheric environmental information to air quality policy makers throughout Europe, as well as to companies and citizens.

MONARCH, an acronym for Multiscale Online Non-hydrostatic AtmospheRe CHemistry, is incorporated into the CAMS multi-model system together with the MINNI model developed by the Italian agency ENEA. The inclusion of both completes a unique system in the world, composed of the eleven (formerly nine) most advanced air quality models developed in Europe, which provides daily forecasts of the concentration of atmospheric pollutants for the next four days.

These forecasts are essential for administrations to manage air pollution, a major problem for European citizens that is considered the largest environmental health risk in Europe and one of the main causes of premature death and disease. According to data from the European Environment Agency (EEA), in 2019 there were 364,200 premature deaths related to poor air quality in the European Union: 307,000 from exposure to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), 40,400 from exposure to nitrogen dioxide and 16,800 from exposure to tropospheric ozone.

"MONARCH is a clear demonstration of the added value of the research carried out in Spain. Thanks to the continuous development of the model, today we can say that the BSC provides extended air quality information to policy makers and citizens across Europe under the umbrella of the European Union's Copernicus program, also known as Europe's eyes on Earth," says researcher Oriol Jorba, co-leader of the Atmospheric Composition group at the BSC.

Satellite observations and computational modeling

CAMS continuous quality-controlled information on the main EU-regulated air pollutants and those of health concern: ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10, and five types of allergenic pollen. The system combines data obtained from environmental satellites and ground bases with computational models that simulate the evolution of the atmosphere to generate estimates of variables such as ozone concentration and the presence of fine particles that allow air quality forecasts for the coming days.

A computational air quality model is a mathematical representation that brings together and synthesizes all the factors that influence the air we breathe: meteorology (wind, rain, temperature, etc.), mobility (road links, speed profiles, etc.), and the main sources of pollutants (traffic, industry, natural sources, etc.). MONARCH is a state-of-the-art air quality model that is continuously developed on the BSC's MareNostrum supercomputer, as the equations describing atmospheric processes are very complex and have to be solved by supercomputing.

"The development of the model started in 2008 by BSC researchers with the aim of advancing the understanding of the physicochemical processes in the atmosphere. In 2014, the system was established as the operational model of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Sand and Dust Storms Warning Advisory and Assessment System (SDS-WAS), the Barcelona Dust Regional Center, providing dust intrusion forecasts for North Africa, the Middle East and Europe," adds Jorba.

European collaboration

Over the past few years, MONARCH has been enhanced to meet the requirements of the CAMS regional production service including refinement of chemical processes, bioaerosol representation, data assimilation of reactive species, workflow optimization for operational production, use of ECMWF forcing conditions and regular updates of emission fluxes. The fruitful collaboration with the CAMS consortium partners, together with the support of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), has greatly contributed to the successful operational deployment of the MONARCH model in Copernicus.

"The addition of the MONARCH model in the CAMS European air quality forecasts is an outstanding milestone and another success story of the research conducted in the BSC Earth Sciences department. Members of the Atmospheric Composition and Computational Earth Sciences groups have made a great effort during the last years to demonstrate the added value of including MONARCH in a unique multi-model operational system consisting of the most advanced atmospheric chemistry models in Europe", concludes Jorba.