Long-term atmospheric visibility trends in megacities of China, India and the United States

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Millions of premature deaths worldwide every year mostly in China and India are contributed by the poor air quality. The atmospheric visibility is a proven indicator of the ambient air quality. In this study, nine megacities were selected, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou from China, Chicago, Los Angeles (LA) and New York City (NYC) from the United States, and Mumbai, Chennai and Jaipur from India. The data of visibility, aerosol optical depth (AOD), and meteorological factors from 1973 to 2015 were collected. The temporal variations of annual and monthly percentages of bad days (visibility < 5 km) and good days (visibility > 15 km) were evaluated. Visibility of Chicago, LA and NYC gradually improved during the past 43 years and has reached a very good level (good day percentages: 75–88%; bad day percentages: 0 – 4%). Conversely, visibility in Mumbai, Chennai and Jaipur continued deteriorating and suffered an extremely poor visibility situation in recent years (good day percentages: 0; bad day percentages: 6–100%). Likewise, visibility in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou has experienced the worsening period during the industrial development from 1970s and turned better after the 1990s. A strong seasonal pattern of bad day percentages of each year were observed in most cities, especially in the winter, which is caused by the fossil fuel combustion for heating, relatively high relative humidity, and other unfavorable meteorological conditions. The low visibility events occurred more frequently in days with low wind speeds and specific wind directions, further explaining the seasonal patterns of visibility. With population growth from the period of 2000–2010 to the period of 2011–2015, AOD and bad day percentages both increased in Mumbai, Chennai, Jaipur and Beijing while others were relatively stable. This study demonstrated that the macro-control of pollution emissions could effectively reduce air deterioration. The relationships among visibility variation, meteorological, pollutant and population factors provide valuable scientific support for public health researches, air quality managements (monitoring and forecasting), and clean energy initiatives.

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