The spatio-temporal evolution of black carbon in the North-West European ‘air pollution hotspot’

Kevin Wyche, Rebecca Cordell, Megan Smith, Kirsty Smallbone, Peter Lyons, Sarkawt Hama, Paul Monks, Jeroen Staelens, Jelle Hofman, Christoph Stroobants, Edward Roekens, Gerard Kos, Ernie Weijers, Pavlos Panteliadis, Marieke Dijkema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Particulate black carbon has a range of negative impacts on health, the environment and climate, however despite this there are relatively few long-term studies on its ambient distribution as a tropospheric air pollutant. In order to address this lack of data, to help to provide greater insight into the spatio-temporal distribution of particulate black carbon and to assess potential influencing factors, a new, permanent suburban monitoring network was established with sites in four northwest European cities: London (UK), Leicester (UK), Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium). We report here an analysis of the first measurements made by the network over a twenty-seven-month period (January 01, 2013–April 01, 2015), alongside data from pre-existing comparator urban roadside (AURN Marylebone Road, London, UK) and rural background (AURN Auchencorth Moss, Scotland) sites. The temporal evolution of black carbon was investigated at each site, as were associations with other commonly monitored pollutants (e.g. O3, NOx, PM2.5, PM10) and wind fields. Results showed clear anthropogenic signatures across the diurnal, weekly and annual timeframes, and positive correlations were obtained between black carbon measurements and other common traffic-related pollutants, highlighting the importance of vehicle emissions as a major contributor to ambient black carbon concentration in northwest Europe. Average black carbon concentrations varied from 6.6 μg m−3 at the urban roadside, to 0.2 μg m−3 in the rural background, with suburban and urban background sites having average concentrations in the range of 1.0–2.4 μg m−3. Wind field analysis further highlighted the importance of road traffic as a source of black carbon and demonstrated the importance of local emission sources at the various receptor locations. Statistical analysis of data between sites generally indicated a weak correlation (rs = −0.03 to 0.68, COD = 0.32–0.91), further highlighting the importance of local emissions in determining ambient black carbon concentration. It was also found that black carbon comprised a significant portion of total ambient particulate matter (PM), particularly at sites with the larger traffic volumes and during rush-hour (e.g. ~45% of PM2.5 at Marylebone Road), however, its contribution to total PM was found to decrease on days of high pollution, indicating the importance of other PM components when air quality is particularly poor.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117874
Number of pages17
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2020


  • black carbon
  • particulate matter
  • air quality
  • North-West Europe
  • Health
  • Particulate matter
  • Air quality
  • Black carbon


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