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

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Observed Beijing (116.4° E, 39.9° N) winter severe haze weather conditions and their representation by a haze weather index (HWI).
Figure 2: Time series of 2009–2015 normalized observed boreal winter daily PM2.5 (μg m−3) and normalized daily weather conditions near Beijing.
Figure 3: Future changes of Beijing winter severe haze weather conditions based on climate models.
Figure 4: Simulated winter severe haze weather conditions near Beijing (116.4° E, 39.9° N).
Figure 5: Simulated multi-model ensemble mean state changes in boreal winter mean circulation.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hong Liao.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Cai, W., Li, K., Liao, H. et al. Weather conditions conducive to Beijing severe haze more frequent under climate change. Nature Clim Change 7, 257–262 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3249

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