Impact of emission reductions and meteorology changes on atmospheric mercury concentrations during the COVID-19 lockdown

Abstract Controlling anthropogenic mercury emissions is an ongoing effort and the effect of atmospheric mercury mitigation is expected to be impacted by accelerating climate change. The lockdown measures to restrict the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the following unfavorable meteorology in Beijing provided a natural experiment to examine how air mercury responds to strict control measures when the climate becomes humid and warm. Based on a high-time resolution emission inventory and generalized additive model, we found that air mercury concentration responded almost linearly to the changes in mercury emissions when excluding the impact of other factors. Existing pollution control and additional lockdown measures reduced mercury emissions by 16.7 and 12.5 kg/d during lockdown, respectively, which correspondingly reduced the concentrations of atmospheric mercury by 0.10 and 0.07 ng/m3. Emission reductions from cement clinker production contributed to the largest decrease in atmospheric mercury, implying potential mitigation effects in this sector since it is currently the number one emitter in China. However, changes in meteorology raised atmospheric mercury by 0.41 ng/m3. The increases in relative humidity (9.5%) and temperature (1.2 °C) significantly offset the effect of emission reduction by 0.17 and 0.09 ng/m3, respectively, which highlights the challenge of air mercury control in humid and warm weather and the significance of understanding mercury behavior in the atmosphere and at atmospheric interfaces, especially the impact from relative humidity.
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