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© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Anthropogenic combustion-derived water (CDW) may accumulate in an airshed due to stagnant air, which may further enhance the formation of secondary aerosols and worsen air quality. Here we collected three-winter-season, hourly resolution, water-vapor stable H and O isotope compositions together with atmospheric physical and chemical data from the city of Xi’an, located in the Guanzhong Basin (GZB) in northwestern China, to elucidate the role of CDW in particulate pollution. Based on our experimentally determined water vapor isotope composition of the CDW for individual and weighted fuels in the basin, we found that CDW constitutes 6.2% of the atmospheric moisture on average and its fraction is positively correlated with [PM2.5] (concentration of particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter less than 2.5 μm) as well as relative humidity during the periods of rising [PM2.5]. Our modeling results showed that CDW added additional average 4.6 μg m−3 PM2.5 during severely polluted conditions in the GZB, which corresponded to an average 5.1% of local anthropogenic [PM2.5] (average at ∼91.0 μg m−3). Our result is consistent with the proposed positive feedback between the relative humidity and a moisture sensitive air-pollution condition, alerting to the nontrivial role of CDW when considering change of energy structure such as a massive coal-to-gas switch in household heating in winter.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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