The Seoul Metropolitan Area (SMA) has a population of 24 million and frequently experiences unhealthy levels of ozone (O3). In this work, measurements taken during the Korea-United States Air Quality Study (KORUS-AQ, 2016) are used to explore regional gradients in O3 and its chemical precursors, and an observationally-constrained 0-D photochemical box model is used to quantify key aspects of O3 production including its sensitivity to precursor gases. Box model performance was evaluated by comparing modeled concentrations of select secondary species to airborne measurements. These comparisons indicate that the steady state assumption used in 0-D box models cannot describe select intermediate species, highlighting the importance of having a broad suite of trace gases as model constraints. When fully constrained, aggregated statistics of modeled O3 production rates agreed with observed changes in O3, indicating that the box model was able to represent the majority of O3 chemistry.
Comparison of airborne observations between urban Seoul and a downwind receptor site reveal a positive gradient in O3 coinciding with a negative gradient in NOx, no gradient in CH2O, and a slight positive gradient in modeled rates of O3 production. Together, these observations indicate a radical-limited (VOC-limited) O3 production environment in the SMA. Zero-out simulations identified C7+ aromatics as the dominant VOC contributors to O3 production, with isoprene and anthropogenic alkenes making smaller but appreciable contributions. Simulations of model sensitivity to decreases in NOx produced results that were not spatially uniform, with large increases in O3 production predicted for urban Seoul and decreases in O3 production predicted for far-outlying areas. The policy implications of this work are clear: Effective O3 mitigation strategies in the SMA must focus on reducing local emissions of C7+ aromatics, while reductions in NOx emissions may increase O3 in some areas but generally decrease the regional extent of O3 exposure.