Seasonal impact of regional outdoor biomass burning on air pollution in three Indian cities: Delhi, Bengaluru, and Pune

Liu, Tianjia; Marlier, Miriam E.; DeFries, Ruth S.; Westervelt, Daniel M.; Xia, Karen R.; Fiore, Arlene M.; Mickley, Loretta J.; Cusworth, Daniel H.; Milly, George P.

Air pollution in many of India's cities exceeds national and international standards, and effective pollution control strategies require knowledge of the sources that contribute to air pollution and their spatiotemporal variability. In this study, we examine the influence of a single pollution source, outdoor biomass burning, on particulate matter (PM) concentrations, surface visibility, and aerosol optical depth (AOD) from 2007 to 2013 in three of the most populous Indian cities. We define the upwind regions, or “airsheds,” for the cities by using atmospheric back trajectories from the HYSPLIT model. Using satellite fire radiative power (FRP) observations as a measure of fire activity, we target pre-monsoon and post-monsoon fires upwind of the Delhi National Capital Region and pre-monsoon fires surrounding Bengaluru and Pune. We find varying contributions of outdoor fires to different air quality metrics. For the post-monsoon burning season, we find that a subset of local meteorological variables (air temperature, humidity, sea level pressure, wind speed and direction) and FRP as the only pollution source explained 39% of variance in Delhi station PM10 anomalies, 77% in visibility, and 30% in satellite AOD; additionally, per unit increase in FRP within the daily airshed (1000 MW), PM10 increases by 16.34 μg m−3, visibility decreases by 0.155 km, and satellite AOD increases by 0.07. In contrast, for the pre-monsoon burning season, we find less significant contributions from FRP to air quality in all three cities. Further, we attribute 99% of FRP from post-monsoon outdoor fires within Delhi's average airshed to agricultural burning. Our work suggests that although outdoor fires are not the dominant air pollution source in India throughout the year, post-monsoon fires contribute substantially to regional air pollution and high levels of population exposure around Delhi. During 3-day blocks of extreme PM2.5 in the 2013 post-monsoon burning season, which coincided with statistically significant high fire activity, concentrations in Delhi averaged 304 μg m−3, or more than 1000% above the 24-h PM2.5 guideline (25 μg m−3) of the World Health Organization. These results suggest that providing viable alternatives to agricultural residue burning could help improve post-monsoon air quality for a growing population of 63 million (39% in urban areas) within Delhi's airshed.


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Atmospheric Environment

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