Observations of particles at their formation sizes in Beijing, China
- 1International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, Queensland University of Technology, G.P.O. Box 2434, Brisbane, 4001, Australia
- 2Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, Beijing, 100012, China
- *These authors contributed equally to this work.
Abstract. New particle formation (NPF) has been observed in many highly polluted environments of South East Asia, including Beijing, where the extent of its contribution to intense haze events is still an open question. Estimated characteristics of NPF events, such as their starting times and formation and growth rates of particles, are more accurate when the detection range of particles extends to smaller sizes. In order to understand the very first steps of particle formation, we used a neutral cluster and air ion spectrometer (NAIS) to investigate particle characteristics at sizes exactly at which atmospheric nucleation and cluster activity occurs. Observations over a continuous 3-month period in Beijing showed 26 NPF events. These events generally coincided with periods with relatively clean air when the wind direction was from the less industrialised north. No NPF events were observed when the daily mean PM2. 5 concentration exceeded 43 µg m−3, which was the upper threshold for particle formation in Beijing. The fraction of particles that are charged in the size range 2–42 nm was normally about 15 %. However, this fraction increased to 20–30 % during haze events and decreased to below 10 % during NPF events. With the NAIS, we very precisely determined the starting times of NPF to a greater accuracy than has been possible in Beijing before and provided a temporal distribution of NPF events with a maximum at about 08:30 LT. Particle formation rates varied between 12 and 38 cm−3 s−1. Particle growth rates were estimated to be in the range of 0.5–9.0 nm h−1. These results are more reliable than previous studies in Beijing as the measurements were conducted for the first time at the exact sizes at which clusters form into particles and provide useful insight into the formation of haze events.