Letter | Published:

Weather conditions conducive to Beijing severe haze more frequent under climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 257262 (2017) | Download Citation


The frequency of Beijing winter severe haze episodes has increased substantially over the past decades1,2,3,4, and is commonly attributed to increased pollutant emissions from China’s rapid economic development5,6. During such episodes, levels of fine particulate matter are harmful to human health and the environment, and cause massive disruption to economic activities3,4,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16, as occurred in January 201317,18,19,20,21. Conducive weather conditions are an important ingredient of severe haze episodes3,21, and include reduced surface winter northerlies3,21, weakened northwesterlies in the midtroposphere, and enhanced thermal stability of the lower atmosphere1,3,16,21. How such weather conditions may respond to climate change is not clear. Here we project a 50% increase in the frequency and an 80% increase in the persistence of conducive weather conditions similar to those in January 2013, in response to climate change. The frequency and persistence between the historical (1950–1999) and future (2050–2099) climate were compared in 15 models under Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5)22. The increased frequency is consistent with large-scale circulation changes, including an Arctic Oscillation upward trend23,24, weakening East Asian winter monsoon25,26, and faster warming in the lower troposphere27,28. Thus, circulation changes induced by global greenhouse gas emissions can contribute to the increased Beijing severe haze frequency.

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W.C. is supported by a Greencard Professor of the Ocean University of China, the Australian Climate Change Science Program, and a CSIRO Office of Chief Executive Science Leader award. H.L. is supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (973 program, Grant No. 2014CB441202) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China under grant 91544219.

Author information


  1. Physical Oceanography Laboratory/CIMSST, Ocean University of China and Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, Yushan Road, Qingdao 266003, China

    • Wenju Cai
    •  & Lixin Wu
  2. CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Aspendale, Victoria 3195, Australia

    • Wenju Cai
  3. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029, China

    • Ke Li
  4. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

    • Ke Li
  5. School of Environmental Science and Engineering/Joint International Research Laboratory of Climate and Environment Change, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing 210044, China

    • Hong Liao
  6. Collaborative Innovation Center on Forecast and Evaluation of Meteorological Disasters/Key Laboratory of Meteorological Disaster of Ministry of Education, Nanjing University for Information Science and Technology, Nanjing 210044, China

    • Huijun Wang


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W.C. and H.L. conceived the study. W.C. and H.L. directed the analysis, and W.C. wrote the first draft of the paper with K.L. K.L. performed the analysis. All authors contributed to interpreting results, discussion of the associated dynamics, and improvement of this paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hong Liao.

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