Investigating the sources of atmospheric nitrous acid (HONO) in the megacity of Beijing, China

Rongrong Gu, Hengqing Shen, Likun Xue, Tao Wang, Jian Gao, Hong Li, Yutong Liang, Men Xia, Chuan Yu, Yiming Liu, Wenxing Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrous acid (HONO) can powerfully influence atmospheric photochemistry by producing hydroxyl radical ([rad]OH), which is a crucial oxidant that controls the fate of atmospheric trace species. To deduce HONO formation mechanisms in polluted regions, two field observations were conducted in urban Beijing during the early summer of 2017 and the winter of 2018. These two seasons bore distinguishing pollution characteristics with a higher degree of ageing and heavier aerosol loading in the early summer and more abundant NOx (NOx = NO + NO2) in the winter. Elevated concentrations of HONO were observed during these two seasons, with the mean ± standard deviation (maximum) concentrations of 1.25 ± 0.94 (6.69) ppbv and 1.04 ± 1.27 (9.55) ppbv in early summer and winter, respectively. The observed daytime (08:00–17:00 h, local time) HONO production rate was several times higher in early summer than in winter (4.44 ± 1.93 ppbv h−1 vs. 0.88 ± 0.49 ppbv h−1). Budget analysis revealed distinct daytime HONO formation mechanisms during these two seasons. Photo-induced heterogeneous conversion of NO2 on the ground surface dominated in early summer, and homogeneous reaction of NO + [rad]OH was dominant in winter. Photolysis of HONO was the major source of primary [rad]OH in both seasons, and thus, played a key role in the regulation of atmospheric oxidising capacity. This study demonstrates the significant seasonal variations in HONO budget and underlines the predominant role of HONO in primary [rad]OH production in Beijing. Our findings will be helpful to gain an understanding of the chemical mechanisms underlying the formation of secondary pollution in metropolitan areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152270
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2022


  • Atmospheric oxidation capacity
  • Budget analysis
  • Hydroxyl radical ([rad]OH)
  • Nitrous acid (HONO)
  • Seasonal variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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