beijing enjoys first completely blue sky month since 1998

Beijing’s incredible streak of consecutive Blue Sky Days continues, standing now at 40 days. (Past coverage here and here.) As I noted in my last post, what we are experiencing is not merely some minor or subtle improvement. Beijing’s air pollution levels over the past month have been less than half of what they usually are this time of year. This is remarkable.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau weighed in today in their monthly air quality assessment:

1月份,我市空气质量天天达标,其中一级18天,二级13天,比去年同期多6天,距全年274天(75%)的目标还差243天。全月空气质量天天达标,是我市自1998年以来第一次。

1月份空气质量天天达标,充分说明我市多年来防治大气污染尤其是治理冬季燃煤污染取得了明显成效。

市环保监测中心专家指出,春节期间开车出行和燃放烟花爆竹等也会影响到空气质量。希望大家注意合理用车,有节制地燃放烟花爆竹,尽可能减少这些活动对大气环境的影响。

Rough translation (emphasis mine):

In January, Beijing’s air quality met the standard every day. There were 18 Grade I days and 13 Grade II days, an increase of 6 days more than the same period last year. There are 243 days remaining before Beijing achieves its yearly target of 274 (75%) days meeting the ambient air quality standard. This month is the first complete month since 1998 in which every day in Beijing has met the air quality standard.

That every day in January met the air quality standard is a strong testament to the clear results obtained by many years of pollution prevention and control work, especially control of pollution in winter from burning coal.

Experts from the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center note that car operation and fireworks during the Spring Festival time will affect air quality. Everyone should pay attention to use vehicles reasonably and set off fireworks in a controlled way, so as to reduce the impact of these activities on air quality.

The summary is rather understated given how dramatically improved the air quality was this month. My guess is that the Beijing EPB is as surprised as the rest of us at how terrific the air quality has been recently, and are reluctant to claim too much credit before further analysis is done. While it’s true that we are certainly seeing some fruits of the variety of emission control programs implemented over the past decade, I think that a bigger factor recently has been consistent weather patterns favorable to pollutant dispersion as opposed to major changes in source emissions.

This graph shows my estimations of average PM10 concentration in Beijing in January, 2001-2011. This year is clearly a (very welcome and very dramatic) anomaly:

january pm10

One Response to “beijing enjoys first completely blue sky month since 1998”

  1. Rob Earley says:

    Hey Vance,

    Nice to see the great air quality (although yesterday and today…whoa…cough cough). I guess the problem is that the great air quality came with something looking to be a pretty rotten drought. Is there any way to correlate good air quality and drought conditions?

    I might add that after the few moderately (and reportedly artificial) blustery days that Beijing saw this winter, the city was totally caked in salt which we know from our experience in Canada, causes ecosystem shock when it all gets washed (at some point) out the drainpipes and into the rivers.

    Does good air mean bad water?

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