Many atmospheric factors influence the way air pollution is dispersed, including wind direction and wind speed, type of terrain and heating effects. To better understand how atmosphere processes can affect ground level pollution, atmospheric conditions can be described simply as either stable or unstable, where the stability is determined by wind (which stirs the air) and heating effects (which cause convection currents). Atmospheric stability affects pollution released from ground level and elevated sources differently.
In unstable conditions, ground level pollution is readily dispersed thereby reducing ground level concentrations. Elevated emissions, however, such as those released from a chimney, are returned more readily to ground level, leading to higher ground level concentrations.
Stable conditions mean less atmospheric mixing and therefore higher concentrations around ground level sources, but better dispersal rates, and therefore lower ground level concentrations, for elevated plumes.