Great news! Today is Beijing’s 36th consecutive Blue Sky Day, a day whose Air Pollution Index (API) is 100 or below, indicating “excellent” or “good” air quality. As far as I can tell, this is the longest consecutive streak of Blue Sky Days in Beijing for at least ten years. Previously, there were only three streaks of 30 days or longer, one in 2006 and two during the Olympics.
Although we have seen gaming of the Blue Sky Day metric in the past, in this case both the data and public observation support dramatically cleaner air quality over January 2011 than in months and years past.
On the data side, for the 36-day period December 23, 2010 to January 27, 2011, I calculated an average particulate matter concentration of around 64 ug/m3 in Beijing. (API to PM10 concentration methodology here.) While this is still well above the WHO’s recommended annual limit of 20 ug/m3, this pollution level is less than half of that over the same period in 2009-2010, and is actually on par with the pollution levels during the Olympic (57 ug/m3) and Paralympic (71 ug/m3) periods, which were widely regarded as successful.
Looking at the data another way, an astonishing 18 of the past 36 days have been Grade I “excellent” air quality days in Beijing, which means the API is 50 or below. In 2001, Beijing only had 12 Grade I air quality days the entire year.
From a public observation perspective, I offer up for evidence the conversation I mentioned in my last post which made me start thinking about the streak, this e-mail I received two days ago from another friend:
I’ve been meaning to ask but since pretty much Christmas Eve I feel like has been the best stretch of air quality since I landed here…even better than the Olympics (which I caught the tail end of). My general air quality test is how well I can see the mountains from Tsinghua or Andingmen bridge. Rarely has there been a miss. I must have clearly seen stars all but a handful of nights and I can’t think of a day that’s looked polluted from start to finish. Are my eyes merely deceiving? Is the wind just being very helpful? Or has there actually been a drop locally?
and finally, the Beijing Air feature from the Asia Society, which features daily pictures, monthly averages, and weekly comparisons of Beijing’s air quality with that of New York. Here’s the past week comparison between Beijing (top row) and New York (bottom row):
So why has the air quality been so uncharacteristically good recently? Unfortunately, I have no data-backed theories, although I would guess it’s a combination of existing pollution control programs and standards beginning to bear fruit, economic slowdown prior to the Chinese New Year holiday, and really favorable weather patterns that have prevented any pollution from building up. (Perhaps the lack of pollution build-up is also related to similar weather patterns that have prevented any measurable precipitation in Beijing since October 23rd.) Regardless, it’s a great air quality start to 2011. Let’s see how much longer the streak can go.