AbstractThe modeling of ship emissions in port areas involves several uncertainties and approximations. In Eulerian grid models, the vertical distribution of emissions plays a decisive role for the ground-level pollutant concentration. In this study, model results of a microscale model, which takes thermal plume rise and turbulence into account, are derived for the parameterization of vertical ship exhaust plume distributions. This is done considering various meteorological and ship-technical conditions. The influence of three different approximated parameterizations (Gaussian distribution, single-cell emission and exponential Gaussian distribution) on the ground-level concentration are then evaluated in a city-scale model. Choosing a Gaussian distribution is particularly suitable for high wind speeds (>5 m s−1) and a stable atmosphere, while at low wind speeds or unstable atmospheric conditions the plume rise can be more closely approximated by an exponential Gaussian distribution. While Gaussian and exponential Gaussian distributions lead to ground-level concentration maxima close to the source, with single-cell emission assumptions the maxima ground-level concentration occurs at a distance of about 1500 m from the source. Particularly high-resolution city-scale studies should therefore consider ship emissions with a suitable Gaussian or exponential Gaussian distribution. From a distance of around 4 km, the selected initial distribution no longer shows significant differences for the pollutant concentration near the ground; therefore, model studies with lower resolution can reasonably approximate ship plumes with a single-cell emission.