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Increase in tropospheric nitrogen dioxide over China observed from space


Emissions from fossil fuel combustion and biomass burning reduce local air quality and affect global tropospheric chemistry. Nitrogen oxides are emitted by all combustion processes and play a key part in the photochemically induced catalytic production of ozone, which results in summer smog and has increased levels of tropospheric ozone globally1. Release of nitrogen oxide also results in nitric acid deposition, and—at least locally—increases radiative forcing effects due to the absorption of downward propagating visible light2. Nitrogen oxide concentrations in many industrialized countries are expected to decrease3, but rapid economic development has the potential to increase significantly the emissions of nitrogen oxides4,5,6,7 in parts of Asia. Here we present the tropospheric column amounts of nitrogen dioxide retrieved from two satellite instruments GOME8,9 and SCIAMACHY10 over the years 1996–2004. We find substantial reductions in nitrogen dioxide concentrations over some areas of Europe and the USA, but a highly significant increase of about 50 per cent—with an accelerating trend in annual growth rate—over the industrial areas of China, more than recent bottom-up inventories suggest6.

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Figure 1: Average annual changes in tropospheric NO 2 as observed by GOME from 1996 to 2002.
Figure 2: SCIAMACHY tropospheric NO 2 vertical columns averaged between December 2003 and November 2004 for selected industrial regions.
Figure 3: The temporal evolution of tropospheric NO 2 columns from GOME for selected areas.
Figure 4: Monthly averages of tropospheric vertical columns of NO 2 over East Central China.

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GOME and SCIAMACHY lv0 and lv1 spectra were provided by ESA through DFD/DLR. We thank M. Chipperfield for providing SLIMCAT data. This study has been funded in part by the research programmes of the University of Bremen, the Max Planck Society, the European Union, German Aerospace (DLR), the German Ministry of Science and Education (BMBF) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

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Correspondence to Andreas Richter.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Discussion

The file contains additional discussion of error sources in the NO2 retrieval and their effect on the conclusions of the paper. It is a summary of the replies given to the reviewer's questions and comments on this topic. (DOC 39 kb)

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Richter, A., Burrows, J., Nüß, H. et al. Increase in tropospheric nitrogen dioxide over China observed from space. Nature 437, 129–132 (2005).

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