China’s Aerosol Malady

Bhattacharya, A., Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Radiation Processes

Cloud-Aerosol-Precipitation Interactions

Qiu Y, Q Wang, and F Hu. 2012. "Shouxian Aerosol Radiative Properties Measured by DOE AMF and Compared with CERES-MODIS." Advanced Materials Research, 518-523(2), 10.4028/www.scientific.net/amr.518-523.1973.


Tiananmen tower enveloped by heavy fog and haze in January 2013. Many of China’s cities face serious air pollution and poor air quality due to industrial development.


Tiananmen tower enveloped by heavy fog and haze in January 2013. Many of China’s cities face serious air pollution and poor air quality due to industrial development.

A new study investigates the impact of aerosols on regional climate in southeast China

On January 12 of this year news of extreme levels of air pollution in Beijing shocked the world.

For decades, poor air quality has been a major health and environmental concern—not just for China, but for the rest of the world as well. Pollutants from China are transported across the Pacific Ocean towards North America.

One of the key agents causing air pollution is aerosols, or particles suspended in the atmosphere. Soil, desert dust, and sea sprays are some of the most common and natural sources of aerosols. In China, though, aerosols are far more abundant and diverse than in cleaner environments, suggesting an overwhelming input from man-made sources such as industry, commerce, and transportation.

While some anthropogenic aerosols, such as soot, warm the Earth, others, like industrial sulfates, cause cooling.

The net effect of aerosols on land temperature, and our ability to estimate that impact, very much depend on how well scientists can characterize the size, abundance, and chemical properties of aerosols in any given region. Ground-based measurements often are the only techniques that work.

In a study published last year in the journal Advanced Material Research, Qiu et al. used ground-based measurements of aerosol and related climate parameters collected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility collected in 2008 in the Shouxian province of eastern China to demonstrate why ground-based measurements appear to work better.

On comparing the ARM data with measurements retrieved from two satellites, the authors found large and inconsistent discrepancies in errors associated with estimates of atmospheric aerosol content in the same location.

The difference in error, obtained from the two types of measuring platforms (ground and satellite), could be because of the different angles at which the satellites orbit the Earth. Alternatively, varying amounts of atmospheric aerosol and water vapor content during the satellite overpasses could have led to these differences as well.

In the study, the researchers concluded that high aerosol loading in southeast China during the late autumn and early winter significantly cool land temperatures. The cooling may have had major impacts on the regional climate, the authors suggest.

The authors thus advocate greater use of ground-based observations to understand the link between aerosols and climate, especially in regions such as southeast China, which are plagued by high and variable amounts of aerosols.