Persistent Heavy Winter Nitrate Pollution Driven by Increased Photochemical Oxidants in Northern China

Xiao Fu, Tao Wang, Jian Gao, Peng Wang, Yiming Liu, Shuxiao Wang, Bin Zhao, Likun Xue

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

186 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrate is an increasingly important component of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during winter in northern China. Past emission control has been ineffective in reducing winter nitrate. Here, we use extensive observations and a model with state-of-the-art nitrogen chemistry to identify the key factors that control the nitrate formation in the heavily polluted North China Plain (NCP). In contrast to the previous view of weak winter photochemistry, we show that the O3 and OH productions are sufficiently high in winter to facilitate fast gas-phase and heterogeneous conversion of NOX to nitrate over the NCP. Increasing O3 and OH productions from higher precursor levels and fast ROX cycling accelerate the nitrate generation during heavy pollution. We find that the 31.8% reduction of NOX emissions from 2010 to 2017 in the NCP lowers surface nitrate by only 0.2% and even increases nitrate in some polluted areas. This is mainly due to the increase of O3 and OH (by ∼30%), which has subsequently increased the conversion efficiency of NOX to HNO3 (by 38.7%). Future control strategies for the winter haze should also aim to lower photochemical oxidants, via larger and synchronized NOX and VOCs emissions reduction, to overcome the effects of nonlinear photochemistry and aerosol chemical feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3881-3889
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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