In early 2020, daily life in northern China came to a halt as the region entered a strict lockdown period to slow the spread of COVID-19. Emissions from transport and industry have fallen. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from fossil fuels have fallen by 60 to 70 percent.
And yet, environmental researchers have noticed that ground-level ozone pollution in Beijing and the northern plains of China exploded during this time, despite the decrease in NOx, a component of ozone.
The region is no stranger to severe ozone pollution, but until about five years ago most ozone events occurred during the summer. Recently, the ozone season in China has lengthened, extending into early spring and late winter. It turns out that the COVID-19 lockdown may help explain why.
Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology (NUIST) have discovered that another component of ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), may be responsible for the increase in winter ozone.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
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