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UH researcher seeks better understanding of China’s air pollution

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Credit: Yuxuan Want

While cities in the United States and Europe have reduced air pollution significantly over the past 50 years, Chinese cities are experiencing an all-time high in air pollution.

Yuxuan Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston, has received a three-year, $52,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research the severe air pollution problem in Beijing.

"It is encouraging that the NSF is supporting the work we are doing to study emerging pollution problems in other parts of the world," Wang said. "This research will lead us to really improve our understanding of air pollution formation in different conditions."

PM2.5 or fine particulate matter, the most damaging pollutant for human health, has been evident in the Chinese capital for years. Beijing's air pollution is caused by emissions from large-scale coal burning and motor vehicles simultaneously.

Wang, along with Becky Alexander at the University of Washington, U.S.-based graduate students and Chinese collaborators will study the unique atmospheric chemistry of sulfate and nitrate aerosols, which are major inorganic components of PM2.5.

Air pollution has been blamed for respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Small particles, those with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, are the most damaging because they can get deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

Under the grant, researchers will use new measurements of the oxygen-isotopic compositions of sulfate and nitrate aerosols collected in Beijing to decipher reaction mechanisms responsible for extreme haze events. These measurements will be combined with modeling of the isotopic composition of inorganic aerosols to examine their specific sources.

The findings will improve fundamental knowledge of sulfate and nitrate formation in Chinese haze events and aid development of air quality mitigation strategies in China.

Wang said she also will use what researchers learn about pollution in China to better understand Houston's air quality.

"What we learn by studying pollution situations in China will lead to improvement and understanding of the mechanisms of pollution formation and with that understanding, will improve the model of predicting pollution in Houston."

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