Understanding how roadside concentrations of NOx are influenced by the background levels, traffic density, and meteorological conditions using Boosted Regression Trees
Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) is a major component of photochemical smog and its constituents are considered principal traffic-related pollutants affecting human health. This study investigates the influence of background concentrations of NOx traffic density, and prevailing meteorological conditions on roadside concentrations of NOx at UK urban, open motorway, and motorway tunnel sites using the statistical approach Boosted Regression Trees (BRT). BRT models have been fitted using hourly concentration, traffic, and meteorological data for each site. The models predict, rank, and visualise the relationship between model variables and roadside NOx concentrations. A strong relationship between roadside NOx and monitored local background concentrations is demonstrated. Relationships between roadside NOx and other model variables have been shown to be strongly influenced by the quality and resolution of background concentrations of NOx, i.e. if it were based on monitored data or modelled prediction. The paper proposes a direct method of using site-specific fundamental diagrams for splitting traffic data into four traffic states: free-flow, busy-flow, congested, and severely congested. Using BRT models, the density of traffic (vehicles per kilometre) was observed to have a proportional influence on the concentrations of roadside NOx, with different fitted regression line slopes for the different traffic states. When other influences are conditioned out, the relationship between roadside concentrations and ambient air temperature suggests NOx concentrations reach a minimum at around 22 degrees C with high concentrations at low ambient air temperatures which could be associated to restricted atmospheric dispersion and/or to changes in road traffic exhaust emission characteristics at low ambient air temperatures. This paper uses BRT models to study how different critical factors, and their relative importance, influence the variation of roadside NOx concentrations. The paper highlights the importance of either setting up local background continuous monitors or improving the quality and resolution of modelled UK background maps and the need to further investigate the influence of ambient air temperature on NOx emissions and roadside NOx concentrations. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.