2024
  • Non-ICIMOD publication

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Nitrogen Aerosols in New Delhi, India: Speciation, Formation, and Sources

  • Qiaomin Pei
  • Xin Wan
  • David Widory
  • Kirpa Ram
  • Bhupesh Adhikary
  • Guangming Wu
  • Xing Diao
  • Hemraj Bhattarai
  • Yan-Lin Zhang
  • Mark Loewen
  • Zhiyuan Cong
  • Summary

Delhi, the capital city of India, experiences severe air pollution and suffers from its adverse effects on human health and ecosystems. This pollution is characterized by high levels of pollutants, including atmospheric nitrogen in both the gaseous and particulate phases. However, there is a lack of simultaneous measurement of chemical composition, tracers and 15N data in aerosols to understand the influence of different sources on N aerosols over Delhi. Here, we measured total nitrogen (TN), water-soluble total nitrogen (WSTN), water-soluble inorganic nitrogen (WSIN), and N stable isotope compositions (δ15N) in PM2.5 samples covering the post-monsoon, winter, and summer periods of the year 2018-19. NH4+-N was the major N species, accounting for an average 58% of TN and 68% of WSIN. The temporal variations of TN, WSTN, NH4+-N, NO3−-N, and WSON showed peaks in the post-monsoon and winter seasons, exhibiting seasonality similar to PM2.5 and levoglucosan (a biomass-burning tracer) indicating their co-genetic sources. Based on the correlation analysis between δ15N and N-species, we identified two distinct secondary chemical processes: i) in an NH4+-poor atmosphere, the gas-to-particle (NH3 → NH4+) conversion and subsequent formation of NH4HSO4 was the main process controlling the 15N and nitrogen enrichments in PM2.5; whereas ii) under NH4+-rich conditions, the formation and dissociation of NH4NO3 dominated. The coupled HYSPLIT and PSCF analyses highlighted the transport and contributions of open biomass burning emissions under a northwesterly atmospheric flow during post-monsoon as well as from local biomass combustion (from cooking and heating) during winter in the city and its vicinity. Our results suggested that i) both NH4+-N and NO3−-N were mainly impacted by biomass combustion during post-monsoon and winter seasons, and ii) NO3−-N resulted of dust transport from the Thar Desert in the summer season, but not NH4+-N. Finally, we recommend that future research focuses on the study of the seasonality of atmospheric nitrogen composition using 15N data from their different sources to design tailor-made measures and policies regarding the different potential sources, combining them within a comprehensive framework to ultimately improve air quality and the living environment in Delhi.