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Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281

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Spatial and temporal patterns of air pollutants in rural and urban areas
of India
Disha Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha*
School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 110067, India

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: In this study, we analysed spatial and temporal patterns of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) con-
Received 24 February 2014 centrations across India. We have also assessed MODIS-derived aerosol optical depth (AOD) variations to
Received in revised form characterize the air quality and relate it to SPM, NO2 and SO2 in different areas. In addition, the pollutant
30 July 2014
concentrations have been mapped using geospatial techniques. The results indicated significant differ-
Accepted 26 August 2014
ences in air pollutant levels across rural and urban areas. In general, districts of central and northern
Available online 20 September 2014
India had relatively higher SPM concentrations compared to southern India. Out of the top ten SPM
polluted districts in India, nine were located in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). We observed significant
Air quality parameters
correlations between the SPM and AOD at different sites. Although spatial and temporal patterns of NO2
SO2 and SO2 matched AOD patterns, the correlation strength (r2) varied based on location. The causes and
NO2 implications of these findings are presented.
SPM © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Satellite data

1. Introduction atmosphere as they scatter radiation (Charlson et al., 1992, 1999).

Fossil fuel consumption and vehicular emissions along with large
The presence of particulate matter in the atmosphere can be industrial point sources add to elevated aerosol fluxes over
attributed to both natural as well as anthropogenic processes. northern and western India (Reddy and Venkataraman, 2002).
The nature of aerosols found in the Indian region may be The unique variation of energy use across different regions gives
different from those reported in the other parts of the world rise to temporal and spatial patterns of aerosols distribution over
(Kulshrestha et al., 2001, 1999; Kafatos et al., 2006). Previously, India affecting aerosol optical depth (AOD). AOD is a quantitative
atmospheric aerosols in Indian region were reported to have measure of the extinction of solar radiation by aerosol scattering
significant amounts of soil dust and carbonaceous compounds and absorption between the point of observation and the top of
affecting radiative properties of atmosphere (Kulshrestha et al., the atmosphere. It is a measure of the integrated columnar
2009; Parashar et al., 2005). High loadings and re-suspension aerosol load and the single most important parameter for eval-
of soil dust lead to high levels of suspended particulate matter uating direct radiative forcing (Kaufman et al., 1997). AOD can be
(SPM) in the Indian region (Kulshrestha, 2013). The incidents of determined from the ground through measurements of the
forest fires also contribute significantly to the emission of spectral transmission of solar radiation through the atmosphere
carbonaceous aerosols in the country (Vadrevu et al., 2012). using rather simple and relatively inexpensive instruments
Radiative effect of atmospheric aerosols is believed to be of the pointed directly at the sun called sun-photometers or filter ra-
same magnitude as greenhouse gases (Andreae, 2001). Aerosol diometers. Routine ground based AOD observations are of
components such as black carbon (BC) (Babu et al., 2002), are utmost importance for the calibration and validation of AOD
known to have a warming effect on global climate due to ab- retrievals from satellites (Chu et al., 2002; Ichoku et al., 2002).
sorption of radiation, whereas others such as, sulphate, organic In this study, we present the spatial and temporal variations in
matter (OM) and mineral matter, cause cooling in the SPM over the Indian region. We report typical SPM values and
MODIS-derived AOD, in different districts of India and compare
levels of SPM in southern and northern India. Relationship between
AOD and SPM has also been explored. In addition, we also assessed
* Corresponding author. the relationship between AOD and other pollutants such as SO2 and
E-mail address: (U.C. Kulshrestha). NO2.
0269-7491/© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
D. Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha / Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281 277

2. Methodology global data in 36 spectral bands from visible to thermal infrared (29
spectral bands with 1 km 5 spectral bands with 500 m. and 2
2.1. Study sites and pollution data spectral bands with 250 m. nadir pixel dimensions). The MODIS
sensor is on-board the polar orbiting NASA-EOS Terra and Aqua
For analysis of the spatial distribution of SPM over the Indian satellites with equator crossing times of 10:30 and 13:30 Local Solar
region, eighty-nine districts were selected. These are the districts Time, respectively. Aerosol retrievals from MODIS data are per-
where ground monitoring of particulate matter is carried out by formed over land and ocean surfaces by means of two separate
the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). AOD was derived for algorithms described in literature (Kaufman and Tanre. 1998;
nineteen districts mostly from central and southern parts of the Kaufman et al., 2005). The aerosol properties are derived by the
country. The number was brought down to nineteen from eighty- inversion of the MODIS-observed reflectance using pre-computed
nine for the ease of calculations. The nineteen districts where radiative transfer look-up tables based on aerosol models (Remer
AOD variations were studied were further classified as rural and et al., 2005; Levy et al., 2007). For this study, we specifically used
urban. CPCB monitoring sites that are located in the cities were the Level 3 monthly mean product from Aqua spanning different
termed as urban. Sites without any important source of anthro- districts to understand spatial and temporal variations in relation to
pogenic emissions in the neighbourhood (approximately 10 km SPM. The data is available online and obtained from https://lpdaac.
buffer) were termed rural and are representative of the sur- etc.
rounding countryside. More specifically, out of the nineteen dis-
tricts, four were classified as rural: Palakkad (Kerala), Dimapur 2.3. Data analysis
(Nagaland), Rayagada (Orissa), Tirupathi (Andhra Pradesh) and
the rest as urban. Rural sites are the places with relatively low In order to characterize aerosol distribution over the Indian
population density and industrial activities. The other fifteen region, SPM values for all three years viz. 2004, 2005, 2006 were
districts were classified as urban because of high industrial den- obtained from the CPCB, Government of India (http://www.cpcb.
sity contributing to a high level of emissions. A comparison be- in), and were mapped using ArcMap (version 9.3). Values for SO2
tween AOD, SO2, NO2 and other pollutants was also made at the and NO2 were also obtained from CPCB for the year 2005 which
rural and urban sites. were used to find out the correlation between other air quality
parameters. In the analysis, air quality data was also correlated with
2.2. MODIS aerosol optical depth (AOD) the population densities of the districts (Fig. 8a,b) obtained from
the population census (
We used the MODIS Collection (MYD08_M3.051) 5.1 AOD at sults/data_files/). Corresponding to SPM data for different districts,
550 nm for characterizing AOD variations. MODIS acquires daily MODIS AOD data were obtained from LPDAAC website for analysing
correlations (see Fig. 9).

Fig. 1. Variation of SPM over Indian region for the year 2004. Fig. 2. Variation of SPM over Indian region for the year 2005.
278 D. Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha / Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281

3. Results and discussion

3.1. SPM variation over India

SPM data from ground monitoring systems in over eighty nine

districts in India were obtained for a period of three years, i.e.,
2004e2006, from CPCB (available online at
The data were then mapped using GIS software for spatial and
temporal representation of SPM levels over the Indian region
(Figs. 1e4).
Spatial and temporal patterns of particulate matter varied
significantly across India. While studying the SPM distribution over
the country, a very clear spatial distribution pattern was observed.
The AOD patterns followed a similar trend in all three years, with
the highest concentrations of aerosols in the Indo-Gangetic region.
Similar results were reported by Singh et al. (2006).

3.2. Districts with the highest and lowest levels of SPM

The sites that showed the highest particulate loadings during all
three years were found in the heavily populated as well as polluted
northern part of India (Figs. 5&7a). Nine of the top ten districts
having highest aerosol concentrations in the country were located
in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). UP covers a major portion of the
Indo-Gangetic plains in the northern part of the country and is the
third largest Indian state with a very high population density of
approximately 845/km2 (population census 2011, Govt. of India).
High levels of SPM are primarily due to high re-suspension of soil
dust into the atmosphere. Due to predominantly dry weather
conditions in the Indian region, the top soil is eroded and blown

Fig. 4. Average variation of SPM over Indian region from 2004 to 2006.

into the air, contributing to high aerosol loading in the region

(Kulshrestha, 2013). It was interesting to note that most of the sites
having low particulate values are located in coastal areas in the
southern part of India (Figs. 6 &7b). This could be due to wet
weather conditions that cleanse the pollutants and aerosol load-
ings. These places also have a low population density.

Fig. 3. Variation of SPM over Indian region for the year 2006. Fig. 5. Places with highest SPM in all three years.
D. Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha / Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281 279

that population density can be treated as a surrogate variable of

anthropogenic pollution.

3.4. Comparison of AOD with other air quality parameters

Particulate and seasonal AOD values of nineteen districts for the

year 2005 over various sites are given in Table 1. Data show that
AOD and SPM had good correlation with NO2 and SO2, especially in
urban areas. Data for rural areas could not be computed as the
concentration of SO2 was recorded below detectable limit (BDL). In
urban and rural areas, a strong positive correlation of AOD values
was observed with the NO2 values (r2 ¼ 0.79 for urban), whereas
SO2 did not show significant correlation. This may be due to
vehicular emissions as a common source of particulate matter and
NO2 (Badarinath et al., 2010) while SO2 is mostly contributed by
fossil fuel burning.
The AOD values for the urban districts showed a positive cor-
Fig. 6. Places with lowest SPM in all three years. relation (r2 ¼ 0.54) with the SPM values. This can be attributed to
higher levels of industrial and vehicular pollution which contrib-
utes more SPM in the cities (Chu et al., 2003; Singh et al., 2006).
3.3. Relation of SPM with population density Relatively, higher concentrations of particulate matter over such
areas resulted in higher AOD; in contrast, rural areas have low in-
Population densities correlated positively with the SPM both in dustrial and anthropogenic emissions resulting in low particulate
the regions having high SPM values (r2 ¼ 0.62) as well as low SPM concentrations, thus less AOD and the negative correlation
values (r2 ¼ 0.63) for the three years (Fig. 8a, b). Our results suggest (r2 ¼ 0.73) between SPM and AOD. These findings match with the

Fig. 7. a) SPM variation in places with the highest recorded SPM values in three years from 2004 to 2006. b) SPM variation in places with the lowest recorded SPM values in three
years from 2004 to 2006.

Fig. 8. a) Correlation graphs of SPM versus population density for the places that recorded the highest values of SPM in India in three years. Viz. 2004e2006. b) Correlation graphs
of SPM versus population density for the places that recorded the lowest values of SPM in India in three years. viz. 2004e2006.
280 D. Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha / Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281

Fig. 9. a) SPM versus AOD graph for urban areas. b) SPM versus AOD graph for rural areas.

earlier work reported for various rural and urban sites in the during monsoons helps in the wet deposition of suspended par-
country (Badarinath and Latha, 2005). ticulate matter. Thus AOD values plummet right after the season.
The decrease in values can be attributed to the role of upper winds
3.5. Seasonal patterns of AOD and cloud scavenging as reported by earlier researchers (Kaskaoutis
et al., 2010). The concentration of particulate matter in the air again
The seasonal pattern of mapped aerosol data showed similar builds up during the winter season which can be attributed to rice-
results for rural and urban areas (Fig. 10a, b). All districts showed an residue burning activities (Vadrevu et al., 2011, 2013) and bon fires
upsurge in aerosol concentrations just before the monsoon season (Fig. 10a, b).
in India which precisely increases from March to July with a peak
during mid-April. Such upsurge may be attributed to summer heat 4. Conclusion
and higher winds, which cause an increase in suspension of loose
soil material (Dey et al., 2004; Singh et al., 2004; Babu et al., 2009). SPM and AOD variations were analysed over selected sites in the
The resultant vertical mixing of windblown dust makes AOD values Indian region using ground based and satellite data respectively.
high in summer season. Another important factor contributing to Our analysis suggested higher abundance of concentrations in
the high AOD during dry months is the influence of BC which north India due to resuspension of soil dust. Out of the top ten SPM
constitutes ~15% of total aerosol mass concentration (Badarinath polluted districts in India, nine were located in the state of Uttar
and Latha, 2005). BC is released from combustion activities dur- Pradesh. The southern part of the country had relatively clean
ing summer activities in addition to other anthropogenic activities environment in terms of total particulate pollution. Strong corre-
such as increased power requirement in the summers, with emis- lation between SPM and AOD was observed in urban areas in
sions also increasing at higher temperatures (Chen et al., 2001).
Also, in the dry and hot season, incidents of forest fires become
more prevalent (Prasad et al., 2000; Badarinath et al., 2009). All
these factors contribute to the concentrations of high coarse mode
particles which gives rise to high AOD values in summers. There
was a sharp decrease in the AOD values with the lowest values seen
in the months of September and October. Precipitation received

Table 1
Data for the year 2005 and number of places (n ¼ 19; urban ¼ 15, rural ¼ 4).

Places SPM Annual Summer Monsoon Winter

(mg/m3) average AOD AOD AOD

Salem 72.00 0.29 0.32 0.41 0.14
Solapur 333.00 0.45 0.54 0.50 0.30
Vishakhapatnam 186.20 0.33 0.40 0.38 0.22
Pune 218.00 0.39 0.37 0.56 0.23
Nashik 193.00 0.37 0.33 0.57 0.21
Chandrapur 139.80 0.37 0.38 0.49 0.22
Cuttack 179.50 0.39 0.46 0.43 0.28
Nagpur 222.20 0.31 0.33 0.38 0.20
Raipur 309.30 0.37 0.44 0.44 0.24
Rajkot 241.50 0.41 0.40 0.57 0.26
Bhopal 170.00 0.33 0.37 0.38 0.25
Ranchi 167.00 0.33 0.36 0.38 0.25
Patna 278.00 0.62 0.69 0.64 0.58
Jodhpur 329.70 0.22 0.04 0.34 0.28
Noida 409.50 0.67 0.64 0.84 0.54
Palakkad 173.00 0.30 0.33 0.35 0.22
Tirupathi 69.00 0.32 0.27 0.30 0.20
Rayagada 153.50 0.25 0.38 0.27 0.10
Fig. 10. a) Seasonal variation of AOD at Palakkad, rural site. b) Seasonal variation of
Dimapur 183.30 0.21 0.33 0.17 0.14
AOD at Chandrapur, urban site.
D. Sharma, U.C. Kulshrestha / Environmental Pollution 195 (2014) 276e281 281

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