Increasing Non-fossil Fuel Contributions to Atmospheric Nitrate in Urban China from Observation to Prediction

Mei-Yi Fan, Yihang Hong, Yanlin Zhang (Corresponding Author), Tong Sha, Yuchi Lin, Fang Cao, Hai Guo

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


China’s nitrogen oxide (NO x) emissions have undergone significant changes over the past few decades. However, nonfossil fuel NO x emissions are not yet well constrained in urban environments, resulting in a substantial underestimation of their importance relative to the known fossil fuel NO x emissions. We developed an approach using machine learning that is accurate enough to generate a long time series of the nitrogen isotopic composition (δ 15N) of atmospheric nitrate using high-level accuracies of air pollutants and meteorology data. Air temperature was found to be the critical driver of the variation of nitrate δ 15N at daily resolution based on this approach, while significant reductions of aerosol and its precursor emissions played a key role in the change of nitrate δ 15N on the yearly scale. Predictions from this model found a significant decrease in nitrate δ 15N in Chinese megacities (Beijing and Guangzhou as representative cities in the north and south, respectively) since 2013, implying an enhanced contribution of nonfossil fuel NO x emissions to nitrate aerosols (up to 22%-26% in 2021 from 18%-22% in 2013 quantified by an isotope mixing model), as confirmed by the Weather Research and Forecasting model coupled with online chemistry (WRF-Chem) simulation. Meanwhile, the declining contribution in coal combustion (34%-39% in 2013 to 31%-34% in 2021) and increasing contribution of natural gas combustion (11%-14% in 2013 to 14%-17% in 2021) demonstrated the transformation of China’s energy structure from coal to natural gas. This approach provides missing records for exploring long-term variability in the nitrogen isotope system and may contribute to the study of the global reactive nitrogen biogeochemical cycle.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • China’s megacities
  • emission sources
  • machine learning
  • nitrate aerosols

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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