Nitrate is a very important aerosol component, thus elucidation of its characteristics and formation mechanisms is essential and important for effective reduction of aerosol pollution. In this work, highly time-resolved submicron aerosol (PM1
) data measured by Aerodyne aerosol mass spectrometers (AMS) in Nanjing, Beijing and Lanzhou during both summer and winter were integrated to investigate the nitrate behaviors in urban China air. Results showed that nitrate occupied 1/8–1/4 of PM1
mass, typically higher than those observed in rural/remote regions. Relative mass fractions of nitrate also varied significantly at different pollution levels. Nitrate mass fractions generally increased with the increase of PM1
loadings during summer, while the contributions during winter increased first and then decreased with the increase of pollution levels. We further propose that there are at least three mechanisms that likely govern the urban nitrate behaviors: Type I—thermodynamics driven, Type II—photochemistry driven, and Type III—planetary boundary layer (PBL) dynamics driven. Analyses of the ammonium-sulfate-nitrate data revealed that ammonium nitrate was able to form before sulfuric acid was fully neutralized in some urban areas. Our findings provide useful insights into the characterization and reduction of fine particulate nitrate pollution.
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