Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(49):17373–17378, 2014. Paper doi abstract bibtex
We illustrate the similarity and difference in particulate matter (PM) formation between Beijing and other world regions. The periodic cycle of PM events in Beijing is regulated by meteorological conditions. While the particle chemical compositions in Beijing are similar to those commonly measured worldwide, efficient nucleation and growth over an extended period in Beijing are distinctive from the aerosol formation typically observed in other global areas. Gaseous emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides from urban transportation and sulfur dioxide from regional industry are responsible for large secondary PM formation, while primary emissions and regional transport of PM are insignificant. Reductions in emissions of the aerosol precursor gases from transportation and industry are essential to mediate severe haze pollution in China.As the world’s second largest economy, China has experienced severe haze pollution, with fine particulate matter (PM) recently reaching unprecedentedly high levels across many cities, and an understanding of the PM formation mechanism is critical in the development of efficient mediation policies to minimize its regional to global impacts. We demonstrate a periodic cycle of PM episodes in Beijing that is governed by meteorological conditions and characterized by two distinct aerosol formation processes of nucleation and growth, but with a small contribution from primary emissions and regional transport of particles. Nucleation consistently precedes a polluted period, producing a high number concentration of nano-sized particles under clean conditions. Accumulation of the particle mass concentration exceeding several hundred micrograms per cubic meter is accompanied by a continuous size growth from the nucleation-mode particles over multiple days to yield numerous larger particles, distinctive from the aerosol formation typically observed in other regions worldwide. The particle compositions in Beijing, on the other hand, exhibit a similarity to those commonly measured in many global areas, consistent with the chemical constituents dominated by secondary aerosol formation. Our results highlight that regulatory controls of gaseous emissions for volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides from local transportation and sulfur dioxide from regional industrial sources represent the key steps to reduce the urban PM level in China.