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Volume 16, No. 4, April 2016, Pages 977-989 PDF(3.54 MB)  Supplementary MaterialPDFPDF (456 KB)
doi: 10.4209/aaqr.2015.01.0057   

Satellite and Ground Observations of Severe Air Pollution Episodes in the Winter of 2013 in Beijing, China

Shenshen Li1, Zongwei Ma2, Xiaozhen Xiong3, David C. Christiani4, Zhaoxi Wang4, Yang Liu2

1 State Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing Science, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Beijing, 100101, China
2 Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health, 1518 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA
3 NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research, 5830 University Research Ct, College Park, MD 20740, USA
4 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 655 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA


  • PM2.5 ground measurements were used to evaluate severe winter smog in Beijing.
  • Satellite data indicated a heavily polluted region much larger than Beijing.
  • Increased energy use and poor air dispersion likely caused severe smog episodes.
  • Contours based on satellite data better characterized PM2.5 spatial patterns.



Beginning in early January 2013, Beijing experienced multiple prolonged and severe smog events that were characterized by very high levels of PM2.5, with peak daily PM2.5 over 400 µg m–3. With PM2.5 concentration contours created from ground observations and satellite remote sensing data, we describe the spatial and temporal characteristics of these episodes and further investigated the factors that contributed to these episodes. Our results indicated that these smog episodes affected a much larger geographic region, far beyond Beijing metropolitan area, corresponding to a total area of ~550,000 km2 and ~180 million people. The extremely cold weather in December 2012 and regional pollution transport were likely the main causes of these severe PM pollutions. In addition to aggressive emission control measures for Beijing, coordinated regional policy must be put in place to achieve more blue-sky days. Although the configuration of the current ground monitoring network may be sufficient to record PM2.5 levels in urban centers, these monitors alone cannot fully characterize the spatial pattern and track the transport of air pollution on a regional scale. Satellite remote sensing data can provide valuable information to fill the gaps left by ground monitors to create a more comprehensive picture of PM2.5.



Keywords: Smog; MODIS; Aerosol optical depth; PM2.5; HYSPLIT.



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