Rapid SO2 emission reductions significantly increase tropospheric ammonia concentrations over the North China Plain


Liu M, Huang X, Song Y, Xu T, Wang S, Wu Z, Hu M, Zhang L, Zhang Q, Pan Y, et al. Rapid SO2 emission reductions significantly increase tropospheric ammonia concentrations over the North China Plain. ATMOSPHERIC CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS. 2018;18:17933-17943.


The North China Plain has been identified as a significant hotspot of ammonia (NH3) due to extensive agricultural activities. Satellite observations suggest a significant increase of about 30% in tropospheric gas-phase NH3 concentrations in this area during 2008-2016. However, the estimated NH3 emissions decreased slightly by 7% because of changes in Chinese agricultural practices, i.e., the transition in fertilizer types from ammonium carbonate fertilizer to urea, and in the livestock rearing system from free-range to intensive farming. We note that the emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) have rapidly declined by about 60% over the recent few years. By integrating measurements from ground and satellite, a long-term anthropogenic NH3 emission inventory, and chemical transport model simulations, we find that this large SO2 emission reduction is responsible for the NH3 increase over the North China Plain. The simulations for the period 2008-2016 demonstrate that the annual average sulfate concentrations decreased by about 50 %, which significantly weakens the formation of ammonium sulfate and in- creases the average proportions of gas-phase NH3 within the total NH3 column concentrations from 26% (2008) to 37% (2016). By fixing SO2 emissions of 2008 in those multi-year simulations, the increasing trend of the tropospheric NH3 concentrations is not observed. Both the decreases in sulfate and increases in NH3 concentrations show highest values in summer, possibly because the formation of sulfate aerosols is more sensitive to SO2 emission reductions in summer than in other seasons. Besides, the changes in NOx emissions and meteorological conditions both decreased the NH3 column concentrations by about 3% in the study period. Our simulations suggest that the moderate reduction in NOx emissions (16 %) favors the formation of particulate nitrate by elevating ozone concentrations in the lower troposphere.