Articles | Volume 15, issue 17
Research article
11 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 11 Sep 2015

Long-term real-time measurements of aerosol particle composition in Beijing, China: seasonal variations, meteorological effects, and source analysis

Y. L. Sun, Z. F. Wang, W. Du, Q. Zhang, Q. Q. Wang, P. Q. Fu, X. L. Pan, J. Li, J. Jayne, and D. R. Worsnop

Abstract. High concentrations of fine particles (PM2.5) are frequently observed during all seasons in Beijing, China, leading to severe air pollution and human health problems in this megacity. In this study, we conducted real-time measurements of non-refractory submicron aerosol (NR-PM1) species (sulfate, nitrate, ammonium, chloride, and organics) in Beijing using an Aerodyne Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitor for 1 year, from July 2011 to June 2012. This is the first long-term, highly time-resolved (~ 15 min) measurement of fine particle composition in China. The seasonal average (±1σ) mass concentration of NR-PM1 ranged from 52 (±49) μg m−3 in the spring season to 62 (±49) μg m−3 in the summer season, with organics being the major fraction (40–51 %), followed by nitrate (17–25 %) and sulfate (12–17 %). Organics and chloride showed pronounced seasonal variations, with much higher concentrations in winter than in the other seasons, due to enhanced coal combustion emissions. Although the seasonal variations of secondary inorganic aerosol (SIA, i.e., sulfate + nitrate + ammonium) concentrations were not significant, higher contributions of SIA were observed in summer (57–61 %) than in winter (43–46 %), indicating that secondary aerosol production is a more important process than primary emissions in summer. Organics presented pronounced diurnal cycles that were similar among all seasons, whereas the diurnal variations of nitrate were mainly due to the competition between photochemical production and gas–particle partitioning. Our data also indicate that high concentrations of NR-PM1 (> 60 μg m−3) are usually associated with high ambient relative humidity (RH) (> 50 %) and that severe particulate pollution is characterized by different aerosol composition in different seasons. All NR-PM1 species showed evident concentration gradients as a function of wind direction, generally with higher values associated with wind from the south, southeast or east. This was consistent with their higher potential as source areas, as determined by potential source contribution function analysis. A common high potential source area, located to the southwest of Beijing along the Taihang Mountains, was observed during all seasons except winter, when smaller source areas were found. These results demonstrate a high potential impact of regional transport from surrounding regions on the formation of severe haze pollution in Beijing.

Short summary
We conducted the first long-term real-time measurement of submicron aerosol composition in Beijing using an ACSM for 1 year. The seasonal variations of mass concentrations and chemical composition of submicron aerosol were investigated in detail, and the meteorological effects on aerosol chemistry, particularly temperature and relative humidity, were elucidated. Finally, the potential source areas of aerosol species during four seasons were identified.
Final-revised paper