Articles | Volume 18, issue 15
Research article
13 Aug 2018
Research article |  | 13 Aug 2018

Summertime fine particulate nitrate pollution in the North China Plain: increasing trends, formation mechanisms and implications for control policy

Liang Wen, Likun Xue, Xinfeng Wang, Caihong Xu, Tianshu Chen, Lingxiao Yang, Tao Wang, Qingzhu Zhang, and Wenxing Wang

Abstract. Nitrate aerosol makes up a significant fraction of fine particles and plays a key role in regional air quality and climate. The North China Plain (NCP) is one of the most industrialized and polluted regions in China. To obtain a holistic understanding of the nitrate pollution and its formation mechanisms over the NCP region, intensive field observations were conducted at three sites during summertime in 2014–2015. The measurement sites include an urban site in downtown Jinan – the capital city of Shandong Province –, a rural site downwind of Jinan city, and a remote mountain site at Mt. Tai (1534 m a.s.l.). Elevated nitrate concentrations were observed at all three sites despite distinct temporal and spatial variations. Using historical observations, the nitrate ∕ PM2.5 and nitrate ∕ sulfate ratios have statistically significantly increased in Jinan (2005–2015) and at Mt. Tai (from 2007 to 2014), indicating the worsening situation of regional nitrate pollution. A multiphase chemical box model (RACM–CAPRAM) was deployed and constrained by observations to elucidate the nitrate formation mechanisms. The principal formation route is the partitioning of gaseous HNO3 to the aerosol phase during the day, whilst the nocturnal nitrate formation is dominated by the heterogeneous hydrolysis of N2O5. The daytime nitrate production in the NCP region is mainly limited by the availability of NO2 and to a lesser extent by O3 and NH3. In comparison, the nighttime formation is controlled by both NO2 and O3. The presence of NH3 contributes to the formation of nitrate aerosol during the day, while there is slightly decreasing nitrate formation at night. Our analyses suggest that controlling NOx and O3 is an efficient way, at the moment, to mitigate nitrate pollution in the NCP region, where NH3 is usually in excess in summer. This study provides observational evidence of a rising trend of nitrate aerosol as well as scientific support for formulating effective control strategies for regional haze in China.

Short summary
We present the first piece of observational evidence of the increasing trend of fine nitrate aerosol in the North China Plain (NCP) during 2005–2015. The summertime nitrate formation mechanism is dissected with a multiphase chemical box model based on observations at three different sites. The nitrate formation is most sensitive to NO2 and to a lesser extent to O3. NH3 plays a significant role in prompting the nitrate formation, but it is usually in excess in summer in the NCP region.
Final-revised paper