Factors influencing ambient particulate matter : from Texas to New Delhi
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Long term exposure to particulate matter (PM) has been linked to an increase in mortality and cardiorespiratory diseases. In addition, PM affects Earth’s radiative balance, and is one of the main sources of uncertainty in climate change predictions. Hence, it is imperative to understand PM composition and concentrations and the factors contributing to their variability. Different parts of the world experience different levels of air pollution, due to an interplay between various factors including sources, meteorological factors, and chemical transformations. PM can either be directly emitted into the atmosphere (primary) or can be generated as result of oxidation of gas-phase precursors leading to the formation and partitioning of low volatility products to the particle phase (secondary). The nature, sources and dynamics of PM can be estimated by combining ambient field measurements with receptor modeling, machine learning and statistical analysis tools. The objective of my thesis is to understand the factors influencing PM concentration and composition in different environments. In chapter 2, I have reported the results of the measurements in Austin, Texas, one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in the U.S. I used several modeling and data analysis tools to understand the sources and formation of particulate matter in Austin including positive matrix factorization (PMF), the Extended Aerosol Thermodynamics Model (E-AIM) and air back trajectory analysis using HYSPLIT. Through my analysis, I demonstrated that photochemistry is an important factor in governing PM composition in Austin. We observed rapid photochemical processing of traffic emissions, H₂SO₄-driven new particle formation (NPF) events, production of organic nitrate, and daytime peaks in the locally formed oxidized organic aerosol during the summer period. My analysis also suggested that SO₂ emissions from cement kilns may be the main source of particulate sulfate observed at this receptor site, pointing toward the need for measurements at the source to investigate this further. This chapter has been published in ACS Earth and Space Chemistry. Meanwhile, Delhi (India) is the most polluted megacity in the world and routinely experiences extreme pollution episodes. Our group is one of the first in the world to measure long term PM composition at high time resolution in the city. As part of the Delhi Aerosol Supersite (DAS) study, we have recorded over five years of near-continuous PM composition to understand inter-seasonal as well as inter-annual variability in the PM concentrations and the factors influencing them. I have studied specific “special” events which have implications for policy decisions. In chapter 3, I have investigated the factors influencing high PM concentrations observed during the autumn (~Sep – Nov) season which experiences some of the most extreme pollution episodes observed anywhere in the world. I combined our measurements with data obtained from regulatory monitoring sites (CO, NOₓ, PM₂.₅) to gain insights from the temporal trends of the pollutants and to demonstrate the differences between autumn and winter, which also experiences high concentrations. I incorporated receptor models and non-parametric wind regression to understand the nature and sources of PM during this period. Further, I used meteorological data such as temperature, planetary boundary layer height, wind speed/direction and relative humidity to understand their impact on PM using statistical hypothesis testing. Using these tools, I demonstrated the influence of regional agricultural burning (from the neighboring states) and fireworks during the festival of Diwali on PM during this season. Overall, my analysis provided detailed insights into the sources and dynamics of PM during one of the most polluted seasons in Delhi (and in the world) and provided a direction for future studies in the region. This chapter has also been published in ACS Earth and Space Chemistry. In chapter 4, I have investigated the impact of COVID-19 lock-down on Delhi's air quality by combining PM and gas phase data of over four years with robust statistical analysis, including the method of “robust differences” to account for seasonal variability in the pollutant concentrations. My analysis suggests that future large-scale modification of activity restrictions in Delhi may impact the primary pollutants (NOₓ, CO, black carbon) more than the secondary pollutants, emphasizing the fundamental importance of secondary or regional pollutants on air quality in Delhi. I showed that overall, future strict activity reductions may lead to only a moderate reduction in PM₁, reflective of complex PM₁ chemistry and the need for integrative, multiscale, and multisectoral policies to address the major air pollution challenge in Delhi. This chapter has been published in ACS Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Because of the interplay between sources and meteorology in Delhi, in chapter 5 I have developed machine learning models incorporating random forest regression that estimate the concentrations of PM₁ and its constituents by using meteorology and emission proxies. I have demonstrated the applicability of these models to capture temporal variability of the PM₁ species, to understand the influence of individual factors via sensitivity analyses, and to separate impacts of the COVID-19 lockdowns and associated activity restrictions from impacts of other factors. Overall, these models provide new insights into the factors influencing ambient PM₁ in New Delhi, India, demonstrating the power of machine learning models in atmospheric science applications. This chapter will be submitted to Aerosol Science and Technology. My research has advanced our understanding about PM formation and processing in different environments. These novel measurements and analyses will help guide future studies aimed at understanding and improving ambient air quality in these regions. Furthermore, the results of my scientific analyses may help guide policy decisions aimed at reducing PM levels in the atmosphere, thus helping improve the lives of millions of people.