Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Research article
11 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 11 Mar 2016

New insights into PM2.5 chemical composition and sources in two major cities in China during extreme haze events using aerosol mass spectrometry

Miriam Elser, Ru-Jin Huang, Robert Wolf, Jay G. Slowik, Qiyuan Wang, Francesco Canonaco, Guohui Li, Carlo Bozzetti, Kaspar R. Daellenbach, Yu Huang, Renjian Zhang, Zhengqiang Li, Junji Cao, Urs Baltensperger, Imad El-Haddad, and André S. H. Prévôt

Abstract. During winter 2013–2014 aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) measurements were conducted for the first time with a novel PM2.5 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter  ≤ 2.5 µm) lens in two major cities of China: Xi'an and Beijing. We denote the periods with visibility below 2 km as extreme haze and refer to the rest as reference periods. During the measurements in Xi'an an extreme haze covered the city for about a week and the total non-refractory (NR)-PM2.5 mass fraction reached peak concentrations of over 1000 µg m−3. During the measurements in Beijing two extreme haze events occurred, but the temporal extent and the total concentrations reached during these events were lower than in Xi'an. Average PM2.5 concentrations of 537 ± 146 and 243 ± 47 µg m−3 (including NR species and equivalent black carbon, eBC) were recorded during the extreme haze events in Xi'an and Beijing, respectively. During the reference periods the measured average concentrations were 140 ± 99 µg m−3 in Xi'an and 75 ± 61 µg m−3 in Beijing. The relative composition of the NR-PM2.5 evolved substantially during the extreme haze periods, with increased contributions of the inorganic components (mostly sulfate and nitrate). Our results suggest that the high relative humidity present during the extreme haze events had a strong effect on the increase of sulfate mass (via aqueous phase oxidation of sulfur dioxide). Another relevant characteristic of the extreme haze is the size of the measured particles. During the extreme haze events, the AMS showed much larger particles, with a volume weighted mode at about 800 to 1000 nm, in contrast to about 400 nm during reference periods. These large particle sizes made the use of the PM2.5 inlet crucial, especially during the severe haze events, where 39 ± 5 % of the mass would have been lost in the conventional PM1 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤ 1 µm) inlet. A novel positive matrix factorization procedure was developed to apportion the sources of organic aerosols (OA) based on their mass spectra using the multilinear engine (ME-2) controlled via the source finder (SoFi). The procedure allows for an effective exploration of the solution space, a more objective selection of the best solution and an estimation of the rotational uncertainties. Our results clearly show an increase of the oxygenated organic aerosol (OOA) mass during extreme haze events. The contribution of OOA to the total OA increased from the reference to the extreme haze periods from 16.2 ± 1.1 to 31.3 ± 1.5 % in Xi'an and from 15.7 ± 0.7 to 25.0 ± 1.2 % in Beijing. By contrast, during the reference periods the total OA mass was dominated by domestic emissions of primary aerosols from biomass burning in Xi'an (42.2 ± 1.5 % of OA) and coal combustion in Beijing (55.2 ± 1.6 % of OA). These two sources are also mostly responsible for extremely high polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations measured with the AMS (campaign average of 2.1 ± 2.0 µg m−3 and frequent peak concentrations above 10 µg m−3). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first data set where the simultaneous extraction of these two primary sources could be achieved in China by conducting on-line AMS measurements at two areas with contrasted emission patterns.

Short summary
This work represents the first online chemical characterization of the PM2.5 using a high-resolution time-of flight aerosol mass spectrometer during extreme haze events China. The application of novel source apportionment techniques allowed for an improved identification and quantification of the sources of organic aerosols. The main sources and processes driving the extreme haze events are assessed.
Final-revised paper