Articles | Volume 11, issue 15
Research article
10 Aug 2011
Research article |  | 10 Aug 2011

Detection from space of a reduction in anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen oxides during the Chinese economic downturn

J.-T. Lin and M. B. McElroy

Abstract. Rapid economic and industrial development in China and relatively weak emission controls have resulted in significant increases in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in recent years, with the exception of late 2008 to mid 2009 when the economic downturn led to emission reductions detectable from space. Here vertical column densities (VCDs) of tropospheric NO2 retrieved from satellite observations by SCIAMACHY, GOME-2 and OMI (both by KNMI and by NASA) are used to evaluate changes in emissions of NOx from October 2004 to February 2010 identifying impacts of the economic downturn. Data over polluted regions of Northern East China suggest an increase of 27–33 % in 12-month mean VCD of NO2 prior to the downturn, consistent with an increase of 49 % in thermal power generation (TPG) reflecting the economic growth. More detailed analysis is used to quantify changes in emissions of NOx in January over the period 2005–2010 when the effect of the downturn was most evident. The GEOS-Chem model is employed to evaluate the effect of changes in chemistry and meteorology on VCD of NO2. This analysis indicates that emissions decreased by 20 % from January 2008 to January 2009, close to the reduction of 18 % in TPG that occurred over the same interval. A combination of three independent approaches indicates that the economic downturn was responsible for a reduction in emissions by 9–11 % in January 2009 with an additional decrease of 10 % attributed to the slow-down in industrial activity associated with the coincident celebration of the Chinese New Year; errors in the estimate are most likely less than 3.4 %.

Final-revised paper