Probing wintertime air pollution sources in the Indo-Gangetic Plain through 52 hydrocarbons measured rarely at Delhi & Mohali

Ashish Kumar, Haseeb Hakkim, Sachin D. Ghude, Vinayak Sinha*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During wintertime, the Indo-Gangetic Plain suffers from severe air pollution affecting several hundred million people. Here we present unprecedented measurements and source analyses of 52 NMHCs (25 alkanes, 16 aromatics, 10 alkenes and one alkyne) in the cities of Delhi and Mohali (300 km north of Delhi) during wintertime (Dec 2016–Jan 2017). NMHCs were measured using a thermal desorption gas chromatograph equipped with flame ionisation detectors with data traceable to WMO standards. The ten most abundant NMHCs that were measured were the same at both Delhi and Mohali: propane, n-butane, acetylene, ethane, toluene, i-butane, ethene, i-pentane, benzene and propene and accounted for >50% of total measured NMHC mass concentration (137 ± 5.8 μg m−3 in Mohali and 239 ± 7.7 μg m−3 in Delhi). Ambient NMHCs and calculated hydroxyl radical reactivity were approximately twice as high in Delhi relative to Mohali, and 2–12 times higher than most other mega-cities, except Lahore and Karachi. Using chemical source signatures, traffic and LPG usage emissions were identified as the major contributor of these reactive NMHCs at both sites during nighttime, with additional minor contributions of garbage burning in Mohali, and evaporative fuel and biomass burning emissions in Delhi. Comparison of NMHC/CO and NMHC/C2H2 ratios over Mohali and Delhi, to other cities, suggested gasoline/petrol-fuelled vehicles were major NMHC emitters within the traffic source. The data from both Mohali and Delhi suggest that a large fraction of the fleet comprised vehicles with older emission control in both Mohali and Delhi. Analyses revealed poor representation of propene, ethene and trimethylbenzenes in the emission inventory (EDGARv4.3.2) over Mohali and Delhi. This study provides key data and new insights into the sources of reactive NMHCs (lifetime < few days) that drive regional wintertime pollution through direct effects and the formation of secondary pollutants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149711
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date18 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and the Indian Meteorological Department for their support to this study, which were made concomitantly with the winterfog experiments (WIFEX) campaign. Dr. Rajeevan is gratefully acknowledged for facilitating this study. We acknowledge the IISER Mohali Atmospheric Chemistry Facility, Ministry of Education, India and the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) for support and funding and thank current and previous members of Atmospheric Chemistry and Emissions and Aerosol Research groups at IISER Mohali their technical assistance. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions and comments which improved the original submission.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • Air pollution concentrations
  • Emission ratio
  • Emission sources
  • Megacity
  • Non-methane hydrocarbons
  • South Asia

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