Vautard, R, Ciais, P, Fisher, R, Lowry, D, Breon, FM, Vogel, F, Levin, I, Miglietta, F, Nisbet, E (2007). The dispersion of the Buncefield oil fire plume: An extreme accident without air quality consequences. ATMOSPHERIC ENVIRONMENT, 41(40), 9506-9517.
The dispersion of pollutants from the huge Buncefield oil depot fire that occurred on 11 December 2005 is simulated using a regional Eulerian chemistry-transport model. We analyse the transport and mixing of the fire plume. We show that the hot plume never reached the ground. Instead, it pierced the thin wintertime boundary layer and was injected into the free troposphere at higher altitudes. This is in agreement with data from many air quality stations. This high injection was fortunate because the fine aerosol particles (PM10) mass column generated by the fire smoke exceeded that of ordinary pollution by an order of magnitude. Our regional chemistry-transport modelling is able to predict the early development of the plume dispersion, as shown by a qualitative comparison between simulated PM10 columns and a satellite image obtained by the EOS-TERRA-MODIS sensor. If the accident had occurred in summer when boundary layers are much deeper and convective, a severe degradation in air quality due to PM10 could have occurred, as shown by a sensitivity simulation assuming a similar fire during one of the hottest days of August 2003. The modelled impact of the fire on regional and European air quality levels strongly depends on the altitude reached by the buoyant plume, as shown by a set of sensitivity simulations with variable injection heights. However, in all cases we found that the fire only affected surface aerosol concentrations without increasing photochemical pollution. (C) 2007 Published by Elsevier Ltd.