Enhancing air quality forecasting in NSW

Expanding the scope and increasing the accuracy of air quality forecasting in New South Wales through collaboration and technology innovation.

What is this program?

The Enhancing Air Quality Forecasting in New South Wales program was established to progressively expand the scope and enhance the accuracy of air quality forecasting capabilities in New South Wales.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water currently issues a daily air quality forecast for the Greater Sydney region, and the overall accuracy of forecasts is considered to be moderate. Through this program, the department will work towards more accurately forecasting air quality for Greater Sydney and its sub-regions and will progressively expand forecasting to the whole of the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region and major regional areas.

The program involves several projects to develop specific advanced tools and capabilities, some involving collaboration with science partners, under the umbrella of the Air Quality Forecast Framework.

What are the aims of the program?

The program aims to develop and operationalise a tool to fulfil the following main objectives:

  • provide accurate routine short-term (24 to 72 hours) air quality forecast through multiple media and including social media
  • inform the emergency response to poor air quality associated with incidental emissions, such as bushfires, dust storms and industrial accidents
  • assess the air quality risks of planned operations such as hazard reduction burning undertaken as part of bushfire risk management
  • support air quality research and field monitoring campaign activities.

What are the benefits of this program?

By providing accurate local air quality forecasts, people who are susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality can take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to air pollution.

Accurate forecasts can also inform the NSW Government’s response to air pollution incidents and support proactive emission reduction measures to reduce the likelihood of air pollution episodes occurring.

What progress has been made so far?

Air Quality Forecast Framework

The department established an Air Quality Forecast Framework in consultation with other agencies such as NSW Environment Protection Authority, the NSW Ministry of Health, the NSW Rural Fire Service, CSIRO and universities. The framework outlines principles, system architecture and approaches for the staged development of air quality forecast systems and tools.

HYSPLIT in New South Wales

Trajectory modelling is used to forecast the likely path air pollution plumes will follow. This is used to identify areas that may be affected by smoke from hazard reduction burns or industrial incidents.

The department has tailored the HYSPLIT (Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory) model, developed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to run in New South Wales. This system, called HYSPLIT in New South Wales, can be run using high spatial resolution (1.5 km) forecast data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to increase the accuracy of plume trajectory modelling.

Numerical Air Quality Modelling

The department has configured the CCAM-CTM modelling system developed by CSIRO to do air quality forecast modelling for the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region. This system is being tested before being operationalised to support daily air quality forecasting.

Emissions data for human-made sources are largely drawn from the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region Air Emissions Inventory, with emissions from natural sources simulated by the model.

To forecast air quality when there are bushfires and hazard reduction burns, smoke emissions need to be modelled. The department is developing an inline bushfire/hazard reduction burn emissions module in collaboration with the Rural Fire Service and CSIRO.

Collaborative research is also underway to improve the wind-blown dust emissions scheme to improve the accuracy of the model during regional dust storm events. Research is also underway to support more dynamic modelling of major human sources of air emissions based on up-to-date activity. Simulation by the model of these emission sources is being investigated.

Upper Hunter Dust Risk Forecast Scheme

The department and the NSW Environment Protection Authority collaborated to develop a dust risk forecast scheme for the Upper Hunter to support actions by mines to reduce dust from operations in adverse weather conditions. 

The scheme is designed to identify weather conditions that cause dust emissions from within the Upper Hunter valley to be the dominant contributor to higher particle (PM10) concentrations in major town centres such as in Singleton.