Beijing and its Air Quality
Image by Racool_studio on Freepik
China has been among the world's largest polluters. Beijing, a manufacturing powerhouse, has long been infamous for its poor air quality and hazy skies. The city's rapid industrialization and urbanization over the past few decades have led to severe air pollution, causing health problems and environmental degradation. To understand the trends, causes, and potential improvements, we have to analyze Beijing's air quality data. For this project, we worked off the data we have for 2013 to 2017 and created an R Shiny app that includes visualizations of the dataset that can be found at this link.
We gathered the dataset from the UC Irvine Machines Learning Repository to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Beijing's air quality, which can be found here. This dataset includes readings from twelve data collection stations around Beijing. It contains various air quality indicators, such as PM2.5, PM10, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3) concentrations from March of 2013 to February of 2017. We also created a total particulates column which is an aggregate of all of the particulates in the air on a particular day.
- How has Beijing's air quality evolved over the years of 2014-2016?
- How do the seasons influence the particulate concentrations?
- Which areas in Beijing are contributing the most towards the pollution?
Particulate Concentrations in Beijing:
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or smaller. PM10 is particulate matter that is 10 microns or smaller. These particulates are known to be extremely harmful to humans exposed to them for a long time. From 2014 to 2016, Beijing saw a gradual decrease in total particulates, as well as PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations. This reduction can be attributed to stricter emission standards, improved industrial practices, and increased efforts to control coal combustion. The figure below is from 2014 to 2016. The R Shiny app shows more insights.
Seasonal Variations in Beijing:
The data revealed significant seasonal variations in air quality. Winter months, particularly November to February, exhibited higher levels of PM2.5 due to increased heating demands, coal burning, and atmospheric conditions that trap pollutants. In contrast, summer months saw better air quality, thanks to favorable weather conditions and decreased heating requirements. The figure below is from 2014. To see other years as well as a day-to-day analysis, click here to be redirected to the R Shiny app.
Explanation of Why:
- Coal Phase-Out:
- One of the key strategies to combat air pollution in Beijing was the gradual phase-out of coal-fired heating systems in favor of natural gas. This transition led to a notable reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions, contributing to improved air quality.
- Transportation Emissions:
- Beijing's rapid urbanization brought about an increase in the number of vehicles on the road. Although there were efforts to promote electric and hybrid vehicles, the city still faced challenges in curbing transportation-related emissions, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Newer car models have better emission ratings leading to a significant decrease in emissions.
- Government Interventions:
- The Beijing government implemented a series of policies and measures to improve air quality during this period. These included stricter emission standards for industries, restrictions on vehicle usage through license plate lotteries, and the establishment of an air quality early warning system.
- Public Awareness:
- Increased public awareness about air pollution and its health impacts also played a significant role in pushing for cleaner air. Citizens demanded action, leading to stronger government commitment to tackling the issue.
Beijing Station Comparison
The station Dingling has the lowest total particulates annually. As the heat map shows, stations is located outside of the main city in Beijing have lower total particulates for a majority of the year. Dingling is a station located outside the primary city as seen in the R Shiny app's heat map. In the app, you can choose to highlight which station and date you would like to analyze.
From the heat map, we can see that the station with the least total particulates may not be the station with the least concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10. From the figures above, we see that DIngling has the least total particulates but not the lowest concentration of PM2.5. This means that the rates in which chemical reactions occur at stations is not uniform and depends on other factors.
In the R shiny app, there is also a station comparison panel, where you can choose to compare two stations. There you can look at different particulate concentrations for two specific stations. For example, here is a comparison of the Dingling and Nongzhanguan stations. We can also choose the time period to compare the two stations.
No single station can be identified as the leading polluting area in Beijing. However, the stations located within the more urbanized areas in Beijing tend to be the larger polluters. The variance of PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations between the stations can be attributed to the different weather at each of the stations due to variations that occur in different locations.
Further Explorations and Possible Additions
From the heat map, we can conclude that there are differing rates at which particulate matter producing reactions occur. We could add a page to the app which would show the locations that these reactions happen the most.
We could try and use the wind direction to help us calculate and predict the concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10. Because a proportion of particulate matter is physically blown into the city, this may be a good predictor or feature to add to the R Shiny app.
Conclusion of Beijing Air Quality
The analysis of Beijing's air quality from 2013 to 2017 reveals a mixed picture. While there were notable improvements in PM2.5 concentrations and sulfur dioxide emissions, the city still faced challenges in controlling transportation-related pollutants. The phase-out of coal and the introduction of cleaner technologies were positive steps toward better air quality.
Beijing is a good model for other rapidly growing cities facing similar environmental challenges. It highlights the importance of a multi-pronged approach involving government policies, technological advancements, public awareness, and international cooperation in addressing air quality issues.
Moving forward, Beijing must continue its efforts to reduce emissions, particularly from transportation sources, and invest in sustainable urban planning to ensure that its citizens can enjoy cleaner air and better overall health. The journey to clean air is an ongoing one, but the data from 2013 to 2017 shows that progress is possible with concerted efforts and dedication.