Xianyu Yang1, Yaqiong Lu This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.2, Xinsheng Zhu This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.3, Jianjun He4, Qi Jiang5, Kai Wu1,6, Haolin Wang7, Xiaoling Zhang1, Shigong Wang1 

1 Plateau Atmosphere and Environment Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, School of Atmospheric Sciences, Chengdu University of Information Technology, Chengdu, China
2 Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, China
3 Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science, Nanjing, China
4 State Key Laboratory of Severe Weather and Key Laboratory of Atmospheric Chemistry of CMA, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing, China
5 Huangpi Meteorological Bureau of Wuhan, Wuhan, China
6 Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
7 School of Atmospheric Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Zhuhai, Guangdong, China

Received: April 25, 2020
Revised: September 7, 2020
Accepted: October 4, 2020

 Copyright The Author's institutions. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are cited. 

Download Citation: ||https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2020.04.0173  

Cite this article:

Yang, X., Lu, Y., Zhu, X., He, J., Jiang, Q., Wu, K., Wang, H., Zhang, X. and Wang, S. (2020). Formation and Evolution Mechanisms of Severe Haze Pollution in the Sichuan Basin, Southwest China. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 20: 2557–2567. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2020.04.0173


  • The evolution mechanism of a severe haze episode in the Sichuan Basin was analyzed.
  • Transboundary transport plays an essential role in haze episodes in Sichuan Basin.
  • The horizontal transport process acts as a major source of PM2.5 in haze episode.


Severe haze episodes are important environmental issues, and the rapid formation and evolution mechanisms of such episodes over complex terrain remain poorly understood. The Sichuan Basin (SCB) periodically experienced heavy haze pollution during the winter of 2016, with the maximum regional average PM2.5 concentration reaching almost 120 µg m3. In this study, we characterize a severe haze episode in the SCB from 20 to 30 January 2017 using comprehensive measurements and model analyses. The evolution of this severe episode shows clear stages, with gradual PM2.5 increases under stagnant weather conditions in Stage I (aerosol accumulation stage) and with explosive PM2.5 increases mainly associated with cross-border transport from the southern SCB in Stage III (rapid formation stage). The process analysis results indicated that primary emissions and aerosol processes were the major sources of PM2.5 in these urban regions, whereas vertical transport and dry deposition generally acted as sinks of PM2.5. In the presence of southwesterly synoptic winds, the aerosols emitted from the southern SCB were transported to Chengdu and the surrounding areas through horizontal transport and accounted for 66% of the PM2.5 concentration in Chengdu during Stage III. Our results reveal the detailed formation mechanism of a severe haze episode in the SCB under the effects of regional transport and synoptic forcing patterns to improve the understanding of haze formation in areas with complex terrain.

Keywords: Air quality; Haze pollution; Process analysis; Sichuan Basin.


Due to rapid economic development and the acceleration of urbanization in China, regional haze pollution characterized by high fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations has become a serious environmental issue (Chan and Yao, 2008; Lei et al., 2011). To mitigate haze pollution, the “Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (APPCAP)” and the “National Ten Measures” were implemented by the Chinese State Council in 2013 to improve the air quality in China. Although the control measures have been generally successful, large challenges remain, especially regarding the formation and evolution mechanisms of episodes of continuously high PM2.5, which are poorly understood (Zheng et al., 2015; Li et al., 2017;).

Because of serious haze pollution resulting from high anthropogenic emissions and unfavorable meteorological conditions, the Sichuan Basin (SCB) has become one of the most polluted city clusters in China over the last few years (Zhao et al., 2018). Extensive studies have been conducted to explore the source and formation of haze pollution in the SCB (Tian et al., 2017; Qiao et al., 2019a). Based on the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalysis data and clustering analysis method, Sun et al. (2020) classified the circulation patterns during periods of continuous pollution in the SCB and found that a weak high-pressure system located in the SCB could enhance pollution by suppressing the planetary boundary layer height (PBLH). By analyzing the chemical composition of PM2.5, Song et al. (2019) reported that the secondary conversion of SO2, NOx and nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) to sulfate, nitrate and secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), respectively, made significant contributions to persistent haze episodes in the SCB. The meteorological conditions in the SCB during winter are characterized by high relative humidity and low temperature, which favor the hygroscopic growth of fine particles and accelerate secondary transformations from gaseous precursors to inorganic ions (Kong et al., 2020). Additionally, the complex basin topography of this region was found to increase the accumulation of PM2.5 and intensify haze formation by reducing the wind speed and increasing the relative humidity (Zhang et al., 2019). Several studies employed the CTM model to investigate the sources of PM2.5. Zhang et al. (2016) utilized HJ-1 satellite data and simulation results from the WRF-Chem model to explore the formation of a haze event and found that low mean ventilation coefficients and decrease in PBLH were conducive to the occurrence of severe haze events. Using a source-oriented version of the Community Multiscale Air Quality (CMAQ) model, Qiao et al. (2019b) quantified the relative contributions from regions inside the SCB to the PM2.5 concentration; they concluded that the transport of secondary inorganic aerosols (SIAs) and their precursors made significant contributions to haze pollution during the winter. However, previous studies focused on only monitored air pollutants, and the formation and evolution mechanisms of severe haze pollution in the SCB remain unclear. Consequently, thorough investigations involving the quantitative assessment of contributions from local emissions and regional transport to severe haze episodes are urgently needed (Chen et al., 2014; Luo et al., 2020).

In the present study, we integrate comprehensive monitoring data and the Weather Research and Forecasting-Community Multiscale Air Quality (WRF-CMAQ) modeling system to investigate the sources and formation mechanisms of an extreme regional haze episode in the SCB during the winter of 2016. The paper is organized as follows. In Sect. 2, the model configuration is described. In Sect. 3, the model performance is evaluated by comparison with observations. The formation and evolution mechanisms of the severe haze pollution are presented in Sect. 4. The conclusions are given in Sect. 5.


Observational Data

The simulated meteorological parameters, including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed (WS) and wind direction, are compared with hourly observation data recorded at four typical national standard basic weather stations (Chengdu, Meishan, Ziyang and Neijiang), which were obtained from the China Meteorological Data Service Center (http://data.cma.cn/en). The hourly observed surface PM2.5 concentrations over the SCB were collected from the China National Urban Air Quality Real-time Publishing Platform ( The hourly mass concentrations of SO42, NO3, NH4+, black carbon (BC), elemental carbon (EC) and organic carbon (OC) were determined from samples collected on the roof of the Chengdu Environmental Science Research Institute (approximately 25 m above the ground) in Qingyang District, Chengdu (30°56′N, 104°05′E), from 1 to 31 January 2017. This site (referenced as the CDAES site below) is a typical urban site that is close to the mixed commercial and residential area of Chengdu Second Ring Road (Fig. S1). At this sampling site, an in-situ gas and aerosol composition monitor (IGAC/S-611) was used to measure the water-soluble ions (SO42, NO3, and NH4+) in PM2.5 on an hourly basis. Previous studies have verified the accuracy of such monitoring through comparison with the commonly used annular denuder system, and the results showed good agreement (Young et al., 2016; Tao et al., 2018). Hourly concentrations of OC and EC in PM2.5 were monitored using a Sunset Laboratory Model-4 OC-EC field analyzer with detection limits of 0.4 µg C m3 for OC and 0.2 µg C m3 for EC. The organic matter (OM) content was calculated by multiplying the OC content by a factor of 1.4. The hourly concentration of BC in PM2.5 was monitored at a wavelength of 670 nm using a 5012 multiangle absorption photometer (MAAP, Thermo Fisher Corporation). Additional details were described in previous field studies (Song et al., 2018; Yang et al., 2020).

WRF-CMAQ Simulation

The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF, version 3.9.1) model was applied to simulate meteorological fields, and CMAQ v5.2.1 was utilized to simulate air pollutants in the SCB during winter. The simulation period started on 15 January 2017 and ended on 31 January 2017. The first 5 days were discarded to account for spin-up and not included in the analysis. Fig. S2 illustrates the triple-nested domain with horizontal resolutions of 27 km, 9 km and 3 km. The outer domain covers all of East Asia, and the inner domain covers the SCB, as shown in Fig. 1. Here, we analyzed only the inner domain to minimize the bias from lateral boundary conditions. The vertical dimension had a resolution of 30 sigma layers.

Fig. 1. Average simulated surface PM2.5 concentrations in domain I of China (a) and the Sichuan Basin (SCB) (b) in January 2017.Fig. 1. Average simulated surface PM2.5 concentrations in domain I of China (a) and the Sichuan Basin (SCB) (b) in January 2017.

The meteorological inputs for the WRF simulations were obtained from the NCEP Final (FNL) 1.0° × 1.0° reanalysis data (http://dss.ucar.edu/datasets/ds083.2/). To improve the model performance, analysis nudging and observation nudging were adopted, and four-dimensional data assimilation (FDDA) data were obtained from the NCEP Automated Data Processing (ADP) Operational Global Surface (ds461.0) and Upper (ds351.0) Observations. The state variables for the water-vapor mixing ratio, potential temperature, and wind were nudged with strengths of 1 × 105, 5 × 105, and 5 × 105 s1, respectively (Wu et al., 2020; Xing et al., 2017). The initial and boundary conditions for the CMAQ simulation were obtained from the MOZART-4 global chemical transport model (Emmons et al., 2010). We obtained the anthropogenic emissions of air pollutants, with a grid resolution of 0.25° × 0.25°, from the Multiresolution Emission Inventory for China (MEIC) in 2016, which was developed by Tsinghua University (Zheng et al., 2018). To reduce the uncertainty attributed to the outdated spatial surrogates in the spatial-temporal emission allocation process, we utilized the population distribution data from the LandScan 2017 database and GDP data from the database of the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBSC) to allocate the emissions to the grid cells (Deng et al., 2020). The Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosols from Nature (MEGAN, version 2.1) was used to calculate the biogenic emissions (Guenther et al., 2012). The options for the physical and chemical parameterizations of the WRF-CMAQ model are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Modeling configuration used for the WRF-CMAQ simulations.

Numerical Experiments

Four sensitivity experiments were performed to quantify the contributions of local emissions and regional transport during the studied episode, as shown in Table 2. In the BASE simulation, all anthropogenic and biogenic emissions were included. In the No-Anth experiment, only biogenic emissions were included. In the NoCD-Anth experiment, the anthropogenic emissions in Chengdu city were turned off. In contrast, we considered only anthropogenic emissions in Chengdu city in the OnlyCD-Anth experiment. Based on the above experiments, the relative contribution from regional transport was determined by comparing the simulation results of BASE to those of OnlyCD-Anth. The contribution from local emissions to the PM2.5 concentration was identified by subtracting the NoCD-Anth results from the BASE results.

Table 2. Statistical metrics for comparing the observations and simulations.

Process Analysis

Process analysis (PA) is a diagnostic method incorporated into the CMAQ model and includes integrated process rate (IPR) analysis and integrated reaction rate (IRR) analysis (Byun and Ching, 1999). The IPR method has been widely used to track the hourly relative contributions of physical/chemical processes to PM2.5 concentrations in previous studies (Gao et al., 2014; Fan et al., 2015; Huang et al., 2016). In this study, the IPR method was used to assess the processes that influence simulated PM2.5 concentrations. The nine types of processes are gas-phase chemistry (denoted CHEM), emission sources (denoted EMIS), aerosol processes (denoted AERO), cloud processes (denoted CLDS), dry deposition (denoted DDEP), horizontal advection (denoted HADV), horizontal diffusion (denoted HDIF), vertical advection (denoted ZADV) and vertical diffusion (denoted VDIF). It should be noted that horizontal transport (denoted HTRA) is defined as the sum of horizontal advection and horizontal diffusion, and vertical transport (denoted VTRA) is defined as the sum of vertical advection and vertical diffusion.


Meteorological Parameters

We evaluated the performance of the WRF model to demonstrate the capability of the modeling system through verification statistics, including the normalized mean bias (NMB), the index of agreement (IOA), and the root mean square error (RMSE), for the hourly 2-m temperature (T2), 2-m relative humidity (RH2), 10-m wind speed (WS10) and 10-m wind direction (WD10) at the Chengdu, Meishan, Ziyang and Neijiang meteorological stations. As shown in Table 3, the simulated T2 and RH2 agreed well with the observations, with IOA values higher than 0.80, indicating that the model successfully captured the variation in T2 and RH2 in these four cities. For WS10 and WD10, the model displayed negative bias, with NMB values ranging from 16.69–42.36 and from 28.79–36.29, respectively. This bias may be attributed to the complex basin terrain and planetary boundary layer parameterization. Overall, these comparisons clearly demonstrate that the WRF model adequately reproduced the meteorological conditions.

Table 3. Statistical metrics between the observations and simulations.

PM2.5 and its Chemical Components

Fig. 2 shows the time series of simulated hourly PM2.5 concentrations in the BASE simulation and the observed PM2.5 levels in the four cities from 20 to 30 January 2017.

Fig. 2. Comparison of the observed (blue line) and simulated (black dots) hourly surface PM2.5 concentrations in four cities in the Sichuan Basin (SCB) from 20 January to 30 January 2017.Fig. 2. Comparison of the observed (blue line) and simulated (black dots) hourly surface PM2.5 concentrations in four cities in the Sichuan Basin (SCB) from 20 January to 30 January 2017.

Generally, the CMAQ model reasonably reproduced the temporal evolution of the observed PM2.5 concentrations in the four cities, with IOAs of 0.89, 0.84, 0.80, and 0.93 and mean biases of –12.3 µg m3, –16.8 µg m3, –23.6 µg m3 and –5.8 µg m3 for Chengdu, Meishan, Ziyang and Neijiang, respectively. In general, the CMAQ model captured the peaks and temporal variations in the PM2.5 concentrations from 20 to 28 January in these cities but underestimated the peak PM2.5 concentration on 28 January in Zigong.

Fig. 3 compares the simulated and observed OM, SO42, NO3, and NH4+ concentrations at the CDAES site averaged from 20 to 30 January 2017. The CMAQ model underestimated the concentrations of OM, SO42 and NO3 by 0.8 µg m3, 2.3 µg m3, and 5.1µg m3, respectively, but overestimated the NH4+ concentration by 1.3 µg m3. For OM, the underestimation may have been attributed to the lack of SOA parameterizations in the AERO06 aerosol module. The bias associated with SIAs (including NH4+, SO42 and NO3) has also been noted in previous studies and potentially derives from the lack of heterogeneous reactions in the chemistry mechanisms in the models, the allocation bias for emission inventories, and the failure to capture relevant changes in meteorological conditions (Zheng et al., 2015).

Fig. 3. Comparison of the observed and simulated surface mass concentrations (µg m–3) of SO42– (red), NO3– (blue), NH4+ (purple), OM (orange) at CDAES site (30°56′N, 104°05′E) averaged over 20–30 January 2017. Mean biases (MB, unit: µg m–3) are also listed for each species (colored numbers).Fig. 3. Comparison of the observed and simulated surface mass concentrations (µg m3) of SO42 (red), NO3– (blue), NH4+ (purple), OM (orange) at CDAES site (30°56′N, 104°05′E) averaged over 20–30 January 2017. Mean biases (MB, unit: µg m3) are also listed for each species (colored numbers).


Spatiotemporal Evolution of Severe Haze Formation

The weather conditions and air pollutant concentrations in four highly polluted cities during this episode are presented in Fig. 4. During this severe haze episode, the PM2.5 concentrations in these cities all reached peak values on January 28th; notably, the surface PM2.5 concentration rapidly increased from 100 µg m3 to more than 600 µg m3 in less than a day in Neijiang and Zigong; these peaks were the highest values recorded in 2017. The weather conditions in the SCB were characterized by persistent high relative humidity greater than 90% and low WS10 (less than 3 m s–1) during this period.

Fig. 4. Evolution of the observed PM2.5, PM10, and gaseous pollutant concentrations; 2-m temperature (T2); 2-m relative humidity (RH2); 10-m wind speed (WS10); and 10-m wind direction (WD10) in January 2017 in four cities: (a) Chengdu, (b) Meishan, (c) Neijiang, and (d) Zigong.Fig. 4. Evolution of the observed PM2.5, PM10, and gaseous pollutant concentrations; 2-m temperature (T2); 2-m relative humidity (RH2); 10-m wind speed (WS10); and 10-m wind direction (WD10) in January 2017 in four cities: (a) Chengdu, (b) Meishan, (c) Neijiang, and (d) Zigong.

Fig. 5 shows the spatial distributions of the simulated daily mean surface PM2.5 concentrations within the SCB from 20 to 28 January 2017. Before the haze episode (e.g., on January 20), the daily PM2.5 concentration in most areas of the SCB was less than 100 µg m3 under a prevailing clean southerly air flow. On 21 January, a uniform pressure field was present over the basin, and the regional average WS was less than 3 m s–1. The boundary layer became stable (see Fig. S3), which was favorable for constraining the aerosol particles within the low mixing layer. Consequently, a high PM2.5 belt formed over the western SCB, with the daily mean PM2.5 concentration exceeding 140 µg m3. During this stage, a uniform pressure field continuously controlled most regions of the SCB, resulting in PM2.5 concentrations higher than 120 µg m3. However, on 26 January, the SCB was affected by effective convection caused by synoptic conditions, resulting in a temporary decrease in the concentration of PM2.5 due to wet scavenging by precipitation. On 27 January, the weather pattern over the SCB was characterized by strong anticyclonic circulation. Moreover, the SCB is located behind a ridge centered in eastern Tibetan (Fig. S4(g)), which causes the prevailing regional wind field to transition to strong southeasterly winds. Therefore, air masses were transported from south to north, leading to a significant increase in the PM2.5 concentration in Chengdu and the surrounding areas, with the maximum daily mean value exceeding 270 µg m3. After 28 January, the SCB was affected by northerly winds that brought dry and clean air masses into the basin. The PM2.5 concentrations in most areas of the SCB decreased to 40–100 µg m3.

Fig. 5. The spatial distributions of simulated daily PM2.5 concentrations (shaded, µg m–3) and wind vectors (arrows, m s–1) from 20 to 28 January 2017.Fig. 5. The spatial distributions of simulated daily PM2.5 concentrations (shaded, µg m3) and wind vectors (arrows, m s–1) from 20 to 28 January 2017.

Based on the evolution pattern of simulated PM2.5 concentrations over the SCB, we divide this episode into four stages:

(I) The aerosol accumulation stage (20–25 January). In Stage I, the daily mean PM2.5 concentrations averaged over the SCB slowly increased from 30.8 to 240.7 µg m3, and these levels persisted for five days.

(II) The clearance stage (26 January). The PM2.5 concentrations in the SCB decreased to 80 µg m3, which was caused by precipitation.

(III) The rapid formation stage (27–28 January). During this stage, the daily average PM2.5 concentrations in most cities of the SCB reached the “heavily polluted” air quality threshold value (24-h average PM2.5 concentration > 150 µg m3). In Neijiang and Leshan, the PM2.5 concentration even reached 897 and 724 µg m3, respectively.

(IV) The aerosol dispersion stage (29–31 January). In this stage, the PM2.5 concentration gradually decreased dramatically to low levels (50–72 µg m3) with increasing WS10.

Contributions from Local Emissions versus Regional Transport

Previous studies have indicated that local anthropogenic emissions are the major source of high PM2.5 concentrations during severe haze episodes in the SCB (Fan et al., 2020). Despite the dominant contribution from local emissions, the contribution of regional transport to PM2.5 concentrations has not been fully quantified in the SCB (Zhao et al., 2019). Regional transport is responsible for more than 30% of the PM2.5 concentration variations in the SCB during winter (Qiao et al., 2019b). In this section, we discuss the contributions of local anthropogenic emissions and regional transport to the PM2.5 concentration in the SCB to determine the relative importance of each factor during the studied severe haze episode.

Fig. 6 illustrates the relative contributions of local emissions and regional transport to the simulated PM2.5 level in Chengdu city. The episode featured different evolution processes, with a gradual PM2.5 increase in Stage I and an explosive PM2.5 increase in Stage III. In Stage I, the stagnant conditions near the surface and low WS10 were not conducive to the dispersion of air pollutants, which led to the local accumulation and chemical production of secondary pollutants. Therefore, the relatively high PM2.5 concentration (141.1 µg m3) was principally caused by local emissions during Stage I. In Stage II, the PM2.5 concentration in Chengdu was mainly associated with the combined effects of local emissions and regional transport. The contributions of local emissions and regional transport to the PM2.5 concentration were comparable in this stage (44% versus 52%, respectively). The cross-border transport of polluted air masses from the southern SCB under prevailing southeasterly winds was the main contributor to haze formation in Stage III, with the contribution of regional transport reaching 66% and that of local emissions reaching 32%. During Stage IV, the PM2.5 levels in Chengdu were dominated by local contributions (58%), and the contribution from regional transport decreased to 38%.

 Fig. 6. Contributions of local emissions (red) and regional transport (blue) to the surface PM2.5 concentrations averaged over Chengdu from 20 to 30 January 2017. The absolute contributions (µg m–3) are shown using bars, and the percent contributions (%) are shown using lines. The PM2.5 concentration and the percent contributions averaged over each stage are listed at the bottom of the figure. Note: The “others” contribution represents the PM2.5 concentration biased from the brute force method.Fig. 6. Contributions of local emissions (red) and regional transport (blue) to the surface PM2.5 concentrations averaged over Chengdu from 20 to 30 January 2017. The absolute contributions (µg m3) are shown using bars, and the percent contributions (%) are shown using lines. The PM2.5 concentration and the percent contributions averaged over each stage are listed at the bottom of the figure. Note: The “others” contribution represents the PM2.5 concentration biased from the brute force method.

However, it should be noted that the brute force method used in this study to attribute the contribution of local emissions and regional transport has limitations due to nonlinearities of the chemistry of PM2.5 formation (Clappier et al., 2017; Thunis et al., 2019). Although the brute force method has been widely used in estimating the contributions of PM2.5 sources (Kim et al., 2017; Chen et al., 2019; Cheng et al., 2019), further investigations using source-oriented methods such as CAMx-PSAT and CMAQ-ISAM should be considered to reduce the nonlinear effects in future studies.

Process Analysis of Variations in the PM2.5 Concentration

Fig. 7 shows the hourly contributions of individual atmospheric physical and chemical processes to variations in the surface PM2.5 concentration over Chengdu in different stages. In the beginning of Stage I, EMIS was the dominant source of surface PM2.5 in Chengdu and was responsible for 72.8% of the accumulated PM2.5. Compared with the dominant effect of EMIS on the PM2.5 concentration, the contribution of AERO to surface PM2.5 was relatively small, accounting for only ~8.8% of the accumulated PM2.5 mass concentration. The contribution of CLDS was almost negligible in the surface layer. DDEP, HTRA and VTRA were the major removal pathways of PM2.5, accounting for ~6.6, ~14.8% and ~76.4% of the removal, respectively. The maximum positive contribution of EMIS was observed during rush-hour periods (07:00–08:00 and 16:00–19:00), whereas the maximum negative contributions of VTRA appeared at midnight. The PA results in the middle of Stage I (January 21–22) differed from those at the beginning of Stage I. Even though EMIS still acted as the predominate contributor to PM2.5, HTRA gradually became the second largest source of surface PM2.5, accounting for 24.3%. In Stage II, the contribution of AERO to the surface PM2.5 was quite low compared with that in Stage I. Notably, the PM2.5 concentration decreased dramatically during this stage, which can be attributed to wet deposition as a result of precipitation events (as discussed before). When the episode reached Stage III, the contribution from HTRA increased dramatically, as an important source of PM2.5 in addition to primary emissions. This phenomenon reflected the important role of regional PM2.5 transport from the southern SCB to Chengdu and the surrounding areas under the prevailing wind fields (see Fig. 5(h)–5(i)). Additionally, VTRA still had a negative influence on the PM2.5 concentration and was responsible for ~88% of the reduction. It should be noted that the maximum negative contributions of VTRA in Stage III appeared at night due to the strong southeasterly winds. During Stage IV, although EMIS still acted as a stable source of PM2.5, HTRA became the main process of PM2.5 removal, leading to a gradual decrease in the PM2.5 concentration. In summary, the rapid increase in PM2.5 in Chengdu was mainly attributed to HTRA, which reflected the influence of regional transport from the southern and southeastern SCB. Furthermore, the essential role of primary EMIS, which acted as a stable positive contributor to PM2.5, cannot be neglected.

Fig. 7. Hourly contributions of individual processes to the PM2.5 mass concentration in Chengdu from 20 January 2017 to 31 January 2017.Fig. 7. Hourly contributions of individual processes to the PM2.5 mass concentration in Chengdu from 20 January 2017 to 31 January 2017.


In this study, we comprehensively investigate the formation and evolution mechanisms of a severe regional haze episode that occurred over the SCB from 20 January 2017 to 31 January 2017. The roles of local emissions and regional transport in the haze episode were identified by sensitivity experiments. Additionally, the IPR method was used to quantify the contributions of each physical/chemical process to the variation in the PM2.5 concentration.

Four haze stages were identified, with a record-breaking hazy episode with a peak concentration of nearly 400 µg mwas observed on 27 January. Sensitivity experiments indicated that the local emissions in Chengdu accounted for 46% of the total PM2.5 concentrations on average, thus acting as a stable positive contributor. In Stage I, the concentration of surface PM2.5 was controlled by local emissions (68%). The contribution of regional transport from the areas within the simulation domain, excluding Chengdu, increased significantly (Stages II and III), which was the main cause of the persistent severe episode. Therefore, joint emission control is the most effective way to mitigate regional haze pollution.

Based on the IPR analysis, emissions (EMIS) and aerosol chemistry (AERO) were the major sources of pollutants and were responsible for 1.3% and 5.2% of the PM2.5, respectively. In contrast, the main sinks were VTRA and DDEP during the study period, accounting for 9.4% and 5.2% of reduction, respectively. However, the substantial PM2.5 increase in Chengdu during the rapid formation stage was attributed to the positive contribution of HTRA, indicating that regional transport is significant in regional haze formation. This work and previous studies all highlighted the essential role of cross-border transport between cities inside SCB in wintertime haze episodes. To further promote our understanding on severe haze episodes occurred over SCB in wintertime, future work should be considered on elucidating the formation of organic aerosols under high RH and cloudy conditions. Additional work is also needed to identify the contribution from different source regions to the PM2.5 and major transport pathways at different heights in order to further understand the regional transport mechanism (Huang et al., 2020).


This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41705080, No. 41975131, No. 91744209), the National Key Foundation Study Developing Programs (No. 2019YFC0214601) and the Scientific Research Foundation of the Chengdu University of Information Technology (No. KYTZ201823). The authors would like to acknowledge the MEIC team from Tsinghua University for providing the Multiscale Emission Inventory of China (MEIC) data. We also greatly acknowledge the Chengdu Environmental Science Research Institute for providing the data on the chemical components of PM2.5. The datasets generated during and/or analyzed in this study are available upon request to the corresponding author.


  1. Chan, C. K. and Yao, X. (2008). Air pollution in mega cities in China. Atmos. Environ. 42: 1–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2007.09.003

  2. Chen, L., Zhu, J., Liao, H., Gao, Y., Qiu, Y., Zhang, M., Liu, Z., Li, N. and Wang, Y. (2019). Assessing the formation and evolution mechanisms of severe haze pollution in the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei region using process analysis. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 19: 10845–10864. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-19-10845-2019

  3. Chen, Y., Xie, S., Luo, B. anf Zhai, C. (2014). Characteristics and origins of carbonaceous aerosol in the Sichuan Basin, China. Atmos. Environ. 94: 215–223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2014.05.037

  4. Cheng, J., Su, J., Cui, T., Li, X., Dong, X., Sun, F., Yang, Y., Tong, D., Zheng, Y., Li, Y., Li, J., Zhang, Q. and He, K. (2019). Dominant role of emission reduction in PM2.5 air quality improvement in Beijing during 2013–2017: A model-based decomposition analysis. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 19: 6125–6146. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-19-6125-2019

  5. Clappier, A., Belis, C.A., Pernigotti, D. and Thunis, P. (2017). Source apportionment and sensitivity analysis: Two methodologies with two different purposes. Geosci. Model Dev. 10: 4245–4256. https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-10-4245-2017

  6. Deng, F., Lv, Z., Qi, L., Wang, X., Shi, M. and Liu, H. (2020). A big data approach to improving the vehicle emission inventory in China. Nat. Commun. 11: 2801. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16579-w

  7. Emmons, L.K., Walters, S., Hess, P.G., Lamarque, J.F., Pfister, G.G., Fillmore, D. Granier, C., Guenther, A., Kinnison, D., Laepple, T., Orlando, J., Tie, X., Tyndall, G., Wiedinmyer, C., Baughcum, S.L. and Kloster, S. (2010). Description and evaluation of the Model for Ozone and Related chemical Tracers, version 4 (MOZART-4). Geosci. Model Dev. 3: 43–67. https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-3-43-2010

  8. Fan, J., Shang, Y., Zhang, X., Wu, X., Zhang, M., Cao, J., Luo, B., Zhang, X., Wang, S., Li, S., Liu, H. and Wu, P. (2020). Joint pollution and source apportionment of PM2.5 among three different urban environments in Sichuan Basin, China. Sci. Total Environ. 714: 136305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136305

  9. Fan, Q., Lan, J., Liu, Y., Wang, X., Chan, P., Hong, Y., Feng, Y., Liu, Y., Zeng, Y. and Liang, G. (2015). Process analysis of regional aerosol pollution during spring in the Pearl River Delta region, China. Atmos. Environ. 122: 829–838. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2015.09.013

  10. Gao, L., Zhang, R., Han, Z., Fu, C., Yan, P., Wang, T., Hong, S. and Jiao, L. (2014). A modeling study of a typical winter PM2.5 pollution episode in a city in Eastern China. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 14: 311–322. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2013.02.0054

  11. Guenther, A.B., Jiang, X., Heald, C.L., Sakulyanontvittaya, T., Duhl, T., Emmons, L.K. and Wang, X. (2012). The Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosols from Nature version 2.1 (MEGAN2.1): An extended and updated framework for modeling biogenic emissions. Geosci. Model Dev. 5: 1471–1492. https://doi.org/10.5194/gmd-5-1471-2012

  12. Huang, X., Ding, A., Wang, Z., Ding, K., Gao, J., Chai, F. and Fu, C. (2020). Amplified transboundary transport of haze by aerosol–boundary layer interaction in China. Nat. Geosci. 13: 428–434. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0583-4

  13. Huang, Z., Ou, J., Zheng, J., Yuan, Z., Yin, S., Chen, D. and Tan, H. (2016). Process contributions to secondary inorganic aerosols during typical pollution episodes over the Pearl River Delta Region, China. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 16: 2129–2144. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2015.12.0668

  14. Kim, H. C., Kim, E., Bae, C., Cho, J.H., Kim, B.U. and Kim, S. (2017). Regional contributions to particulate matter concentration in the Seoul metropolitan area, South Korea: Seasonal variation and sensitivity to meteorology and emissions inventory. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 17: 10315–10332. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-10315-2017

  15. Kong, L., Tan, Q., Feng, M., Qu, Y., An, J., Liu, X., Cheng, N., Deng, Y., Zhai, R. and Wang, Z. (2020). Investigating the characteristics and source analyses of PM2.5 seasonal variations in Chengdu, Southwest China. Chemosphere 243: 125267. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.125267

  16. Lei, Y., Zhang, Q., He, K.B. and Streets, D.G. (2011). Primary anthropogenic aerosol emission trends for China, 1990–2005. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 11: 931–954. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-11-931-2011

  17. Li, J., Du, H., Wang, Z., Sun, Y., Yang, W., Li, J., Tang, X. and Fu, P. (2017). Rapid formation of a severe regional winter haze episode over a mega-city cluster on the North China Plain. Environ. Pollut. 223: 605–615. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.01.063

  18. Luo, J., Zhang, J., Huang, X., Liu, Q., Luo, B., Zhang, W., Rao, Z. and Yu, Y. (2020). Characteristics, evolution, and regional differences of biomass burning particles in the Sichuan Basin, China. J. Environ. Sci. 89: 35–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jes.2019.09.015

  19. Qiao, X., Guo, H., Wang, P., Tang, Y., Ying, Q., Zhao, X., Deng, W. and Zhang, H. (2019a). Fine particulate matter and ozone pollution in the 18 cities of the sichuan basin in southwestern China: Model performance and characteristics. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 19: 2308–2319. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2019.05.0235

  20. Qiao, X., Guo, H., Tang, Y., Wang, P., Deng, W., Zhao, X., Hu, J., Ying, Q. and Zhang, H. (2019b). Local and regional contributions to fine particulate matter in the 18 cities of Sichuan Basin, southwestern China. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 19: 5791–5803. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-19-5791-2019

  21. Song, M., Tan, Q., Feng, M., Qu, Y., Liu, X., An, J. and Zhang, Y. (2018). Source apportionment and secondary transformation of atmospheric nonmethane hydrocarbons in Chengdu, Southwest China. J. Geophys. Res. 123: 9741–9763. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JD028479

  22. Song, M., Liu, X., Tan, Q., Feng, M., Qu, Y., An, J. and Zhang, Y. (2019). Characteristics and formation mechanism of persistent extreme haze pollution events in Chengdu, southwestern China. Environ. Pollut. 251: 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2019.04.081

  23. Sun, Y., Zhuang, G., Tang, A., Wang, Y. and An, Z. (2006). Chemical characteristics of PM2.5 and PM10 in haze–fog episodes in Beijing. Environ. Sci. Technol. 40: 3148–3155. https://doi.org/10.1021/es051533g

  24. Sun, Y., Niu, T., He, J., Ma, Z., Liu, P., Xiao, D., Hu, J., Yang, J. and Yan, X. (2020). Classification of circulation patterns during the formation and dissipation of continuous pollution weather over the Sichuan Basin, China. Atmos. Environ. 223: 117244. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2019.117244

  25. Tao, J., Zhang, Z., Tan, H., Zhang, L., Wu, Y., Sun, J., Che, H., Cao, J., Cheng, P., Chen, L. and Zhang, R. (2018). Observational evidence of cloud processes contributing to daytime elevated nitrate in an urban atmosphere. Atmos. Environ. 186: 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2018.05.040

  26. Thunis, P., Clappier, A., Tarrason, L., Cuvelier, C., Monteiro, A., Pisoni, E., Wesseling, J., Belis, C. A., Pirovano, G., Janssen, S., Guerreiro, C. and Peduzzi, E. (2019). Source apportionment to support air quality planning: Strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches. Environ. Int. 130: 104825. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.05.019

  27. Tian, M., Wang, H., Chen, Y., Zhang, L., Shi, G., Liu, Y., Yu, J., Zhai, C., Wang, J. and Yang, F. (2017). Highly time-resolved characterization of water-soluble inorganic ions in PM2.5 in a humid and acidic mega city in Sichuan Basin, China. Sci. Total Environ. 580: 224–234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.12.048

  28. Wu, K., Yang, X., Chen, D., Gu, S., Lu, Y., Jiang, Q., Wang, K., Ou, Y., Qian, Y., Shao, P. and Lu, S. (2020). Estimation of biogenic VOC emissions and their corresponding impact on ozone and secondary organic aerosol formation in China. Atmos. Res. 231: 104656. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosres.2019.104656

  29. Xing, J., Wang, J., Mathur, R., Wang, S., Sarwar, G., Pleim, J., Hogrefe, C., Zhang, Y., Jiang, J., Wong, D.C. and Hao, J. (2017). Impacts of aerosol direct effects on tropospheric ozone through changes in atmospheric dynamics and photolysis rates. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 17: 9869–9883. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-9869-2017

  30. Yang, X., Wu, K., Wang, H., Liu, Y., Gu, S., Lu, Y., Zhang, X., Hu, Y., Ou, Y., Wang, S. and Wang, Z. (2020). Summertime ozone pollution in Sichuan Basin, China: Meteorological conditions, sources and process analysis. Atmos. Environ. 226: 117392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2020.117392

  31. Young, L.H., Li, C.H., Lin, M.Y., Hwang, B.F., Hsu, H.T., Chen, Y.C., Jung, C.R., Chen, K.C., Cheng, D.H., Wang, V.S., Chiang, H.C. and Tsai, P.J. (2016). Field performance of a semi-continuous monitor for ambient PM2.5 water-soluble inorganic ions and gases at a suburban site. Atmos. Environ. 144: 376–388. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.08.062

  32. Zhang, L., Guo, X., Zhao, T., Gong, S., Xu, X., Li, Y., Luo, L., Gui, K., Wang, H., Zheng, Y. and Yin, X. (2019). A modelling study of the terrain effects on haze pollution in the Sichuan Basin. Atmos. Environ. 196: 77–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2018.10.007

  33. Zhang, Y., Liu, Z., Lv, X., Zhang, Y. and Qian, J. (2016). Characteristics of the transport of a typical pollution event in the Chengdu area based on remote sensing data and numerical simulations. Atmosphere 7: 127. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos7100127

  34. Zhao, S., Yu, Y., Yin, D., Qin, D., He, J. and Dong, L. (2018). Spatial patterns and temporal variations of six criteria air pollutants during 2015 to 2017 in the city clusters of Sichuan Basin, China. Sci. Total Environ. 624: 540–557. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.172

  35. Zhao, S., Yu, Y., Qin, D., Yin, D., Dong, L. and He, J. (2019). Analyses of regional pollution and transportation of PM2.5 and ozone in the city clusters of Sichuan Basin, China. Atmos. Pollut. Res. 10: 374–385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apr.2018.08.014

  36. Zheng, B., Zhang, Q., Zhang, Y., He, K.B., Wang, K., Zheng, G.J., Duan, F.K., Ma, Y.L. and Kimoto, T. (2015). Heterogeneous chemistry: A mechanism missing in current models to explain secondary inorganic aerosol formation during the January 2013 haze episode in North China. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 15: 2031–2049. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-15-2031-2015

  37. Zheng, B., Tong, D., Li, M., Liu, F., Hong, C., Geng, G., Li, H., Li, X., Peng, L., Qi, J., Yan, L., Zhang, Y., Zhao, H., Zheng, Y., He, K. and Zhang, Q. (2018). Trends in China's anthropogenic emissions since 2010 as the consequence of clean air actions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 18: 14095–14111. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-18-14095-2018

Share this article with your colleagues 


Subscribe to our Newsletter 

Aerosol and Air Quality Research has published over 2,000 peer-reviewed articles. Enter your email address to receive latest updates and research articles to your inbox every second week.

77st percentile
Powered by
   SCImago Journal & Country Rank

2022 Impact Factor: 4.0
5-Year Impact Factor: 3.4

Aerosol and Air Quality Research partners with Publons

CLOCKSS system has permission to ingest, preserve, and serve this Archival Unit
CLOCKSS system has permission to ingest, preserve, and serve this Archival Unit

Aerosol and Air Quality Research (AAQR) is an independently-run non-profit journal that promotes submissions of high-quality research and strives to be one of the leading aerosol and air quality open-access journals in the world. We use cookies on this website to personalize content to improve your user experience and analyze our traffic. By using this site you agree to its use of cookies.