Articles | Volume 16, issue 13
Research article
11 Jul 2016
Research article |  | 11 Jul 2016

Primary and secondary aerosols in Beijing in winter: sources, variations and processes

Yele Sun, Wei Du, Pingqing Fu, Qingqing Wang, Jie Li, Xinlei Ge, Qi Zhang, Chunmao Zhu, Lujie Ren, Weiqi Xu, Jian Zhao, Tingting Han, Douglas R. Worsnop, and Zifa Wang

Abstract. Winter has the worst air pollution of the year in the megacity of Beijing. Despite extensive winter studies in recent years, our knowledge of the sources, formation mechanisms and evolution of aerosol particles is not complete. Here we have a comprehensive characterization of the sources, variations and processes of submicron aerosols that were measured by an Aerodyne high-resolution aerosol mass spectrometer from 17 December 2013 to 17 January 2014 along with offline filter analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Our results suggest that submicron aerosols composition was generally similar across the winter of different years and was mainly composed of organics (60 %), sulfate (15 %) and nitrate (11 %). Positive matrix factorization of high- and unit-mass resolution spectra identified four primary organic aerosol (POA) factors from traffic, cooking, biomass burning (BBOA) and coal combustion (CCOA) emissions as well as two secondary OA (SOA) factors. POA dominated OA, on average accounting for 56 %, with CCOA being the largest contributor (20 %). Both CCOA and BBOA showed distinct polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) spectral signatures, indicating that PAHs in winter were mainly from coal combustion (66 %) and biomass burning emissions (18 %). BBOA was highly correlated with levoglucosan, a tracer compound for biomass burning (r2 = 0.93), and made a considerable contribution to OA in winter (9 %). An aqueous-phase-processed SOA (aq-OOA) that was strongly correlated with particle liquid water content, sulfate and S-containing ions (e.g. CH2SO2+) was identified. On average aq-OOA contributed 12 % to the total OA and played a dominant role in increasing oxidation degrees of OA at high RH levels (> 50 %). Our results illustrate that aqueous-phase processing can enhance SOA production and oxidation states of OA as well in winter. Further episode analyses highlighted the significant impacts of meteorological parameters on aerosol composition, size distributions, oxidation states of OA and evolutionary processes of secondary aerosols.

Short summary
We have a comprehensive characterization of the sources, variations and processes of submicron aerosols in Beijing in winter using HR-AMS and GC/MS measurements. The primary sources including traffic, cooking, biomass burning and coal combustion emissions, and secondary components were separated and quantified with PMF. Our results elucidated the important roles of primary emissions, particularly coal combustion, and aqueous-phase processing in the formation of severe air pollution in winter.
Final-revised paper