Unbalanced emission reductions of different species and sectors in China during COVID-19 lockdown derived by multi-species surface observation assimilation

Lei Kong, Xiao Tang*, Jiang Zhu, Zifa Wang, Yele Sun, Pingqing Fu, Meng Gao, Huangjian Wu, Miaomiao Lu, Qian Wu, Shuyuan Huang, Wenxuan Sui, Jie Li, Xiaole Pan, Lin Wu, Hajime Akimoto, Gregory R. Carmichael

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The unprecedented lockdown of human activities during the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced social life in China. However, understanding the impact of this unique event on the emissions of different species is still insufficient, prohibiting the proper assessment of the environmental impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. Here we developed a multi-air-pollutant inversion system to simultaneously estimate the emissions of NOx, SO2, CO, PM2.5 and PM10 in China during COVID-19 restrictions with high temporal (daily) and horizontal (15 km) resolutions. Subsequently, contributions of emission changes versus meteorological variations during the COVID-19 lockdown were separated and quantified. The results demonstrated that the inversion system effectively reproduced the actual emission variations in multi-air pollutants in China during different periods of COVID-19 lockdown, which indicate that the lockdown is largely a nationwide road traffic control measure with NOx emissions decreasing substantially by ∼40 %. However, emissions of other air pollutants were found to only decrease by ∼10 % because power generation and heavy industrial processes were not halted during lockdown, and residential activities may actually have increased due to the stay-at-home orders. Consequently, although obvious reductions of PM2.5 concentrations occurred over the North China Plain (NCP) during the lockdown period, the emission change only accounted for 8.6 % of PM2.5 reductions and even led to substantial increases in O3. The meteorological variation instead dominated the changes in PM2.5 concentrations over the NCP, which contributed 90 % of the PM2.5 reductions over most parts of the NCP region. Meanwhile, our results suggest that the local stagnant meteorological conditions, together with inefficient reductions of PM2.5 emissions, were the main drivers of the unexpected PM2.5 pollution in Beijing during the lockdown period. These results highlighted that traffic control as a separate pollution control measure has limited effects on the coordinated control of O3 and PM2.5 concentrations under current complex air pollution conditions in China. More comprehensive and balanced regulations for multiple precursors from different sectors are required to address O3 and PM2.5 pollution in China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6217-6240
Number of pages24
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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