Air Pollution, Greenhouse Gases & Climate

Jonathan M. Moch, Eleni Dovrou, Loretta J. Mickley, Frank N. Keutsch, Yuan Cheng, Daniel J. Jacob, Jingkun Jiang, Meng Li, J. William Munger, Xiaohui Qiao, and Qiang Zhang. 2018. “Contribution of hydroxymethane sulfonate to ambient particulate matter: A potential explanation for high particulate sulfur during severe winter haze in Beijing.” Geophysical Research Letters, 45, Pp. 11969-11979. Publisher's VersionAbstract

PM 2.5 during severe winter haze in Beijing, China, has reached levels as high as 880μg/m3, with sulfur compounds contributing significantly to PM 2.5 composition. This sulfur has been traditionally assumed to be sulfate, although atmospheric chemistry models are unable to account for such large sulfate enhancements under dim winter conditions. Using a 1-D model, we show that well-characterized but previously overlooked chemistry of aqueous-phase HCHO and S(IV) in cloud droplets to form a S(IV)-HCHO adduct, hydroxymethane sulfonate, may explain high particulate sulfur in wintertime Beijing. We also demonstrate in the laboratory that methods of ion chromatography typically used to measure ambient particulates easily misinterpret hydroxymethane sulfonate as sulfate. Our findings suggest that HCHO and not SO2 has been the limiting factor in many haze events in Beijing and that to reduce severe winter pollution in this region, policymakers may need to address HCHO sources such as transportation.