Atmospheric Measurements

Rong Tang, Jing Zhao, Yifan Liu, Xin Huang, Yanxu Zhang, Derong Zhou, Aijun Ding, Chris Nielsen, and Haikun Wang. 2022. “Air quality and health co-benefits of China's carbon dioxide emissions peaking before 2030.” Nature Communications, 13, 1008. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recent evidence shows that carbon emissions in China are likely to peak ahead of 2030. However, the social and economic impacts of such an early carbon peak have rarely been assessed. Here we focus on the economic costs and health benefits of different carbon mitigation pathways, considering both possible socio-economic futures and varying ambitions of climate policies. We find that an early peak before 2030 in line with the 1.5  C target could avoid ~118,000 and ~614,000 PM2.5 attributable deaths under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 1, in 2030 and 2050, respectively. Under the 2  C target, carbon mitigation costs could be more than offset by health co-benefits in 2050, bringing a net benefit of $393–$3,017 billion (in 2017 USD value). This study not only provides insight into potential health benefits of an early peak in China, but also suggests that similar benefits may result from more ambitious climate targets in other countries.

Peter Sherman, Shaojie Song, Xinyu Chen, and Michael B. McElroy. 2021. “Projected changes in wind power potential over China and India in high resolution climate models.” Environmental Research Letters, 16, 3, Pp. 034057. Publisher's VersionAbstract
As more countries commit to emissions reductions by midcentury to curb anthropogenic climate change, decarbonization of the electricity sector becomes a first-order task in reaching this goal. Renewables, particularly wind and solar power, will be predominant components of this transition. How availability of the wind and solar resource will change in the future in response to regional climate changes is an important and underdiscussed topic of the decarbonization process. Here, we study changes in potential for wind power in China and India, evaluating prospectively until the year 2060. To do this, we study a downscaled, high-resolution multimodel ensemble of CMIP5 models under high and low emissions scenarios. While there is some intermodel variability, we find that spatial changes are generally consistent across models, with decreases of up to 965 (a 1% change) and 186 TWh (a 2% change) in annual electricity generation potential for China and India, respectively. Compensating for the declining resource are weakened seasonal and diurnal variabilities, allowing for easier large-scale wind power integration. We conclude that while the ensemble indicates available wind resource over China and India will decline slightly in the future, there remains enormous potential for significant wind power expansion, which must play a major role in carbon neutral aspirations.
Peter Sherman, Eli Tziperman, Clara Deser, and Michael B. McElroy. 2020. “Historical and future roles of internal atmospheric variability in modulating summertime Greenland Ice Sheet melt.” Geophysical Research Letters, 47, 6, Pp. e2019GL086913. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Understanding how internal atmospheric variability affects Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) summertime melting would improve understanding of future sea level rise. We analyze the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM‐LE) over 1951‐2000 and 2051‐2100. We find that internal variability dominates the forced response on short timescales (~20 years) and that the area impacted by internal variability grows in the future, connecting internal variability and climate change. Unlike prior studies, we do not assume specific patterns of internal variability to affect GrIS melting, but derive them from Maximum Covariance Analysis. We find that the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is the major source of internal atmospheric variability associated with GrIS melt conditions in CESM‐LE and reanalysis, with the positive phase (NAO+) linked to widespread cooling over the ice sheet. CESM‐LE and CMIP5 project an increase in the frequency of NAO+ events, suggesting a negative feedback to the GrIS under future climate change.
S.J. Song, M. Gao, W.Q. Xu, Y.L. Sun, D.R. Worsnop, J.T. Jayne, Y.Z. Zhang, L. Zhu, M. Li, Z. Zhou, C.L. Cheng, Y.B. Lv, Y. Wang, W. Peng, X.B. Xu, N. Lin, Y.X. Wang, S.X. Wang, J. W. Munger, D. Jacob, and M.B. McElroy. 2019. “Possible heterogeneous hydroxymethanesulfonate (HMS) chemistry in northern China winter haze and implications for rapid sulfate formation.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19, Pp. 1357-1371. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The chemical mechanisms responsible for rapid sulfate production, an important driver of winter haze formation in northern China, remain unclear. Here, we propose a potentially important heterogeneous hydroxymethanesulfonate (HMS) chemical mechanism. Through analyzing field measurements with aerosol mass spectrometry, we show evidence for a possible significant existence in haze aerosols of organosulfur primarily as HMS, misidentified as sulfate in previous observations. We estimate that HMS can account for up to about one-third of the sulfate concentrations unexplained by current air quality models. Heterogeneous production of HMS by SO2 and formaldehyde is favored under northern China winter haze conditions due to high aerosol water content, moderately acidic pH values, high gaseous precursor levels, and low temperature. These analyses identify an unappreciated importance of formaldehyde in secondary aerosol formation and call for more research on sources and on the chemistry of formaldehyde in northern China winter.
China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities
Haikun Wang, Xi Lu, Yu Deng, Yaoguang Sun, Chris P. Nielsen, Yifan Liu, Ge Zhu, Maoliang Bu, Jun Bi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2019. “China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities.” Nature Sustainability, 2, Pp. 748–754. Publisher's VersionAbstract

China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or sooner under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C or less by the end of the century. By examining CO2 emissions from 50 Chinese cities over the period 2000–2016, we found a close relationship between per capita emissions and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for individual cities, following the environmental Kuznets curve, despite diverse trajectories for CO2 emissions across the cities. Results show that carbon emissions peak for most cities at a per capita GDP (in 2011 purchasing power parity) of around US$21,000 (80% confidence interval: US$19,000 to 22,000). Applying a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the peak of per capita emissions using a Kuznets function based on China’s historical emissions, we project that emissions for China should peak at 13–16 GtCO2 yr−1 between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 yr ahead of the current Paris target of 2030. We show that the challenges faced by individual types of Chinese cities in realizing low-carbon development differ significantly depending on economic structure, urban form and geographical location.

Peter Sherman, Meng Gao, Shaojie Song, Patrick Ohiomoba, Alex Archibald, and Michael B. McElroy. 2019. “The influence of dynamics and emissions changes on China’s wintertime haze.” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 58, 7, Pp. 1603-1611. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Haze days induced by aerosol pollution in North and East China have posed a persistent and growing problem over the past few decades. These events are particularly threatening to densely-populated cities such as Beijing. While the sources of this pollution are predominantly anthropogenic, natural climate variations may also play a role in allowing for atmospheric conditions conducive to formation of severe haze episodes over populated areas. Here, an investigation is conducted into the effects of changes in global dynamics and emissions on air quality in China’s polluted regions using 35 simulations developed from the Community Earth Systems Model Large Ensemble (CESM LENS) run over the period 1920-2100. It is shown that internal variability significantly modulates aerosol optical depth (AOD) over China; it takes roughly a decade for the forced response to balance the effects from internal variability even in China’s most polluted regions. Random forest regressions are used to accurately model (R2 > 0.9) wintertime AOD using just climate oscillations, the month of the year and emissions. How different phases of each oscillation affect aerosol loading are projected using these regressions. AOD responses are identified for each oscillation, with particularly strong responses from El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). As ENSO can be projected a few months in advance and improvements in linear inverse modelling (LIM) may yield a similar predictability for the PDO, results of this study offer opportunities to improve the predictability of China’s severe wintertime haze events, and to inform policy options that could mitigate subsequent health impacts.

Yan Zhang, Xin Bo, Yu Zhao, and Chris P. Nielsen. 2019. “Benefits of current and future policies on emissions of China's coal-fired power sector indicated by continuous emission monitoring.” Environmental Pollution, 251, August, Pp. 415-424. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Emission inventories are critical to understanding the sources of air pollutants, but have high uncertainties in China due in part to insufficient on-site measurements. In this study, we developed a method of examining, screening and applying online data from the country's improving continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) to reevaluate a “bottom-up” emission inventory of China's coal-fired power sector. The benefits of China's current national emission standards and ultra-low emission policy for the sector were quantified assuming their full implementation. The derived national average emission factors of SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) were 1.00, 1.00 and 0.25 kg/t-coal respectively for 2015 based on CEMS data, smaller than those of previous studies that may not fully recognize improved emission controls in recent years. The annual emissions of SO2, NOx and PM from the sector were recalculated at 1321, 1430 and 334 Gg respectively, 75%, 63% and 76% smaller than our estimates based on a previous approach without the benefit of CEMS data. The results imply that online measurement with proper data screening can better track the recent progress of emission controls. The emission intensity (the ratio of emissions to economic output) of Northwest China was larger than that of other regions, attributed mainly to its less intensive economy and industry. Transmission of electricity to more-developed eastern provinces raised the energy consumption and emissions of less-developed regions. Judged by 95 percentiles of flue-gas concentrations measured by CEMS, most power plants met the current national emission standards in 2015 except for those in Northwest and Northeast China, while plants that met the ultra-low emission policy were much scarcer. National SO2, NOx and PM emissions would further decline by 68%, 55% and 81% respectively if the ultra-low emission policy can be strictly implemented, implying the great potential of the policy for emission abatement.
2019 Mar 07

China and Asia in a Changing Climate: Natural Science for the Non-Scientist

12:15pm to 1:45pm


CGIS South S020, Belfer Case Study Room, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA


  • Professor John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University; Co-Director of Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, HKS; former Science Advisor to President Barack Obama and former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Professor Peter Huybers, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Professor Elsie SunderlandGordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Professor Steve Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Chair: Professor Mike McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Chair, Harvard-China Project on Energy, Economy and Environment... Read more about China and Asia in a Changing Climate: Natural Science for the Non-Scientist

Jianxiong Sheng, Shaojie Song, Yuzhong Zhang, Ronald G. Prinn, and Greet Janssens-Maenhout. 2019. “Bottom-up estimates of coal mine methane emissions in China: A gridded inventory, emission factors, and trends.” Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 6, 8, Pp. 473-478. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China has large but uncertain coal mine methane (CMM) emissions. Inverse modeling (top-down) analyses of atmospheric methane observations can help improve the emission estimates but require reliable emission patterns as prior information. To serve this urgent need, we developed a high-resolution (0.25° × 0.25°) methane emission inventory for China’s coal mining using a recent publicly available database of more than 10000 coal mines in China for 2011. This number of coal mines is 25 and 2.5 times, respectively, more than the number available in the EDGAR v4.2 and EDGAR v4.3.2 gridded global inventories, which have been extensively used in past inverse analyses. Our inventory shows large differences with the EDGAR v4.2 as well as its more recent version, EDGAR v4.3.2. Our results suggest that China’s CMM emissions have been decreasing since 2012 on the basis of coal mining activities and assuming time-invariant emission factors but that regional trends differ greatly. Use of our inventory as prior information in future inverse modeling analyses can help better quantify CMM emissions as well as more confidently guide the future mitigation of coal to gas in China.
Peng Jiang, Hongyan Liu, Shilong Piao, Philippe Ciais, Xiuchen Wu, Yi Yin, and Hongya Wang. 2019. “Enhanced growth after extreme wetness compensates for post-drought carbon loss in dry forests.” Nature Communications, 10, 195. Publisher's VersionAbstract
While many studies have reported that drought events have substantial negative legacy effects on forest growth, it remains unclear whether wetness events conversely have positive growth legacy effects. Here, we report pervasive and substantial growth enhancement after extreme wetness by examining tree radial growth at 1929 forest sites, satellite-derived vegetation greenness, and land surface model simulations. Enhanced growth after extreme wetness lasts for 1 to 5 years and compensates for 93 ± 8% of the growth deficit after extreme drought across global water-limited regions. Remarkable wetness-enhanced growths are observed in dry forests and gymnosperms, whereas the enhanced growths after extreme wetness are much smaller in wet forests and angiosperms. Limited or no enhanced growths are simulated by the land surface models after extreme wetness. These findings provide new evidence for improving climate-vegetation models to include the legacy effects of both drought and wet climate extremes.