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Unexpected air pollution with marked emission reductions during the COVID-19 outbreak in China

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Science  17 Jun 2020:
eabb7431
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb7431

Abstract

The absence of motor vehicle traffic and suspended manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic in China produced a unique experiment to assess the efficiency of air pollution mitigation. Up to 90% reduction of certain emissions during the city-lockdown period can be identified from satellite and ground-based observations. Unexpectedly, extreme particulate matter levels simultaneously occurred in northern China. Our synergistic observation analyses and model simulations show that anomalously high humidity promoted aerosol heterogeneous chemistry, along with stagnant airflow and uninterrupted emissions from power plants and petrochemical facilities, contributing to severe haze formation. Also, because of non-linear production chemistry and titration of ozone in winter, reduced nitrogen oxides resulted in ozone enhancement in urban areas, further increasing the atmospheric oxidizing capacity and facilitating secondary aerosol formation.

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