In recent decade the ambient fine particle (PM2.5) levels have shown a trend of distinct dropping in China, while ground-level ozone concentrations have been increasing in Beijing and many other Chinese mega-cities. The variation pattern in Los Angeles was markedly different, with PM2.5 and ozone decreasing together over past decades. In this study, we utilize observation-based methods to establish the parametric relationship between PM2.5 concentration and key aerosol physical properties (including aerosol optical depth and aerosol surface concentration), and an observation-based 1-D photochemical model to quantify the response of PM2.5 decline in enhancing ground-level ozone pollution over a large PM2.5 concentration range (10–120 μg m−3). We find that the significance of ozone enhancement due to PM2.5 dropping depends on both the PM2.5 levels and optical properties of particles. Ozone formation increased by 37% in 2006–2016 due to PM2.5 dropping in Beijing, while it becomes less important (7%) as PM2.5 reaches below 40 μg/m3, similar to Los Angeles since 1980s. Therefore, the two cities show the convergence of air pollutant characteristics. Hence a control strategy prioritizing reactive volatile organic compound abatement is projected to yield simultaneous ozone and PM2.5 reductions in Beijing, as experienced in Los Angeles.
Abstract Despite the recent decrease in pollution events in Chinese urban areas, the World Health Organization air quality guideline values are still exceeded. Observations from monitoring networks show a stronger decrease of organic aerosol directly emitted to the atmosphere relative to secondary organic aerosol (SOA) generated from oxidation processes. Here, the uptake of water-soluble gas-phase oxidation products is reported as a major SOA contribution to particulate pollution in Beijing, triggered by the increase of aerosol liquid water. In pollution episodes, this pathway is enough to explain the increase in SOA mass, with formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, glycolaldehyde, formic acid, and acetic acid alone explaining 15%–25% of the SOA increase. Future mitigation strategies to reduce non-methane volatile organic compound emissions should be considered to reduce organic particulate pollution in China.