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Using unmanned aerial vehicle to investigate the vertical distribution of fine particulate matter

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Abstract

The vertical distribution of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is a vital link in understanding the transport and evolution of haze. However, existing ground stations cannot provide sufficient vertical observations of PM2.5, especially at fine scales regarding space and time. This study deployed a six-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with portable monitors to observe the vertical distributions of PM2.5 and meteorological parameters within 1000 m lower troposphere. By comparing with ground-based monitoring station and tethered balloon platform for PM2.5 measurements, the UAV was improved and then used to perform a field observation experiment in the Qingpu district of Shanghai, China. The UAV-based observations showed a decreasing vertical profile of PM2.5 in the experimental day, with a decrease of more than 50% at 0–1000 m height. PM2.5 had a vertical pattern that declined rapidly after 700 m in the afternoon, but the morning PM2.5 had a rapid decline from 200 to 500 m compared with other height intervals in this period. A temperature inversion at a lower height in the morning blocked newly formed PM2.5 at ground to disperse upward, and PM2.5 above the temperature inversion was composed of residuals in last night. The temperature inversion gradually climbed up in the afternoon, which was beneficial to the dispersion of near-ground PM2.5. The difference of relative humidity above and below 700 m height implies different geographical origins that were well identified and explained by a cluster analysis. This study generally highlights the significance of using a lightweight UAV to understand air pollution and governance environments in the urban area.

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Acknowledgments

This work was partially supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (No. 2016YFC0200500), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41701552), and the Science and Technology Project of Guangzhou, China (No. 201803030032). The authors thank the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) for providing the HYSPLIT transport and dispersion model and the READY Web site (http://www.ready.noaa.gov) used in this study. The authors also declare no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Z. Wang.

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Editorial responsibility: U.W. Tang.

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Cite this article

Wang, D., Wang, Z., Peng, Z. et al. Using unmanned aerial vehicle to investigate the vertical distribution of fine particulate matter. Int. J. Environ. Sci. Technol. 17, 219–230 (2020) doi:10.1007/s13762-019-02449-6

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Keywords

  • PM2.5
  • Vertical distribution
  • Cluster analysis
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle