Haze in Beijing

The Haze phenomenon has been a recurrent feature in the skies and streets of Beijing in the recent times. It has been most persistent during the winter season with the latest haze occurring in December 2015. The paper analyzes the formation of the haze phenomenon, the methods and results of its measurement, and the factors that facilitate its occurrence in Beijing and its persistence during the winter season.


The haze is a smog type of air pollution caused by the presence of sulphur dioxide resulting from coal combustion that forms on the streets of Beijing causing visibility issues (Li, and Liu 8910). The manufacturing companies of the city use coal  to generate power and while the residential houses utilize it for heating purposes during winter. Such application of coal when collaborated with the measurements of haze explains why the formation of the phenomenon is very common during the season.


The haze pollution is measured per cubic meters using the density of fine particulate matter and the air quality index which indicate the quality of air. According to Mei Zheng et al., in using the fine particulate matter, the World Health Organization recommends that the safe quality of air should be 25 micrograms per cubic meter (3968). However, in December 2013, Beijing's air quality rated at over 600 micrograms per cubic meter, a value way above that of WHO safe level (Wang et al. 2).

The second method, the air quality index, has a scale that measures the air quality with the top limit of air quality expected to be 500. During the winter season of 2011, Beijing recorded an air quality index value of 755, a figure that was 255 times higher than the limit (Schipani 77). On the same day, New York measured 19 on the same index. It proves that the winter season triggers the increase in the formation of the air pollution in Beijing. Even though the cause of the haze is the sulphur dioxide resulting from coal combustion, its persistence during winter as revealed by the measurements must also be facilitated by certain factors.

Facilitators of the Haze

Beijing is vulnerable to an unfavorable atmospheric environment both due to its fast urbanization and the topography of the area that promote the development of the haze, especially during winter. Geographically, Beijing sits on a plain flanked by escarpments. The escarpments trap pollutions on days when the wind is very sparse such as during the winter season (Zheng et al. 2969). The winds are not strong enough to drive away the sulphur dioxide fine matter particles and other air pollutants during winter out of the city to the Gobi Desert. As a result, at this period, the smog forms in the city causing the haze and the resultant low visibility (Zheng et al. 2969). Moreover, rapid urbanization of Beijing also significantly contributes to the occurrence of the haze. Most people in China are moving to Beijing in search of better opportunities. In 2011, the population of Beijing was 20.7 million (Schipani 78). The influx in population has resulted in the increase in the number of cars in the city. According to Chan, and Xiaohong in 2005 there were about 2.65 million cars on the streets of Beijing as compared to 1999 when the streets hardly had about 1.39 million vehicles (4). These cars contribute to air pollution when they emit pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide from their exhaust fumes. When these air pollutants combine with the winter air in the city, one can see the smog in the skies and streets of the city (Zheng et al. 2970).

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Another important fact is that the increase in population due to urbanization has stimulated real-estate development. The construction of several high-rise buildings in the city has hindered the dispersion of air pollutants (Ho, and Nielsen 10). The situation is made worse during winter when most of the buildings use coal for heating to keep the houses warm. It results in an increase in the sulphur dioxide pollutant. Due to the lack of dispersion routes, the pollutants combine with the winter air resulting in the formation of the haze (Zhang, Song, and Cai 103). When the facilitators are grouped together with the cause of the formation of the haze phenomenon and its measurement values, they provide proof and explain the persistent occurrence of the haze phenomenon during winter.


The haze pollution forms when sulphur dioxide combines with the air to form smog on the streets of Beijing. The measurements of the haze pollution using the air quality index and fine and articulate matter method indicate that during winter, the air in Beijing is usually polluted because of the persistent formation of the haze. The lack of strong winds leads to the Beijing escarpments entrapping the polluted air inside the city. Moreover, Beijing’s rapid urbanization has increased high-rise buildings that block the dispersion of air pollutants during winter when coal is mostly used in the houses for heating. In conclusion, all the factors of formation, measurement, and facilitators both separately and together explain the persistent occurrence of the haze phenomenon during winter.

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