Characteristics of atmospheric organic and elemental carbon aerosols in urban Beijing, China

Dongsheng Ji, Junke Zhang, Jun He, Xiaoju Wang, Bo Pang, Zirui Liu, Lili Wang, Yuesi Wang

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)


Organic carbon (OC) and elemental carbon (EC) in PM2.5 were measured hourly with a semicontinuous thermal-optical analyzer in urban Beijing, China, from Mar 1, 2013 to Feb 28, 2014. The annual mean concentrations of OC and EC in Beijing were 14.0 ± 11.7 and 4.1 ± 3.2 μg/m3, respectively. The concentrations observed in this study were lower than those of other reports over the past ten years; however, the concentrations were higher than those reported from most of the megacities in North America and Europe. These findings suggest that OC and EC remained at high levels despite the implementation of strict control measures to improve air quality. The OC and EC concentrations exhibited strong seasonality, with high values in the autumn and winter but low values in the spring and summer in Beijing. The diurnal OC and EC cycles were characterized by higher values at night and in the morning because of primary emissions, accumulations and low boundary-layer heights. Due to increasing photochemical activity, a well-defined OC peak was observed at approximately noon. The OC and EC concentrations followed typical lognormal patterns in which more than 75% of the OC samples had concentrations between 0.9 and 18.0 μg/m3 and 75% of the EC samples had concentrations between 0.4 and 5.6 μg/m3. An EC tracer method and combined EC tracer and K+ mass balance methods were used to estimate the contributions from secondary formation and biomass burning, respectively. High secondary organic carbon (SOC) concentrations were found in the autumn and winter due to low temperatures, which are favorable for the absorption and condensation of semi-volatile organic compounds on existing particles. High correlations were found between the estimated SOC in PM2.5 and the observed OOA (oxidized organic aerosol) in PM1; thus, the method proved to be effective and reliable. The annual average OCBiomass burning (OCbb) contribution to the total OC concentration was 18.4%, suggesting that biomass burning is a substantial pollution factor in Beijing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-306
Number of pages14
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Beijing
  • Biomass burning
  • EC
  • OC
  • PM
  • Secondary organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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