Investigation of vehicle cold start primary NO2 emissions inferred from ambient monitoring data in the UK and their implications for urban air quality

Vasileios N. Matthaios, Louisa J. Kramer, Roberto Sommariva, Francis D. Pope, William J. Bloss

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Nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, collectively NOX) derived from vehicle exhausts are critical pollutants with significant implications for urban air quality and human and environmental health. In this study, we investigate trends in measured ambient nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and NOx mixing ratios at urban traffic - dominated monitoring sites in the UK for the period 2009–2016. We apply an oxidant analysis approach alongside a number of assumptions to the ambient data to determine trends in the inferred primary NO2/NOx ratio, and examine evidence for enhanced vehicle “cold start” effects upon these inferred emissions. Ambient NO2 and NOX mixing ratios have experienced an overall decrease of 17.2% and 11.3% respectively for the locations considered over this time period. The inferred primary NO2/NOx ratio for the majority of the study locations is found to have fallen by 29% (from 0.175 to 0.125) as a monthly mean from 2009 to 2016, with a statistically significant median decrease of 0.32 percentage points per year. However, during cold weather (temperatures less than or equal to 5 OC), the inferred primary NO2/NOx ratio averaged across all locations, when compared with normal conditions (temperatures higher than 5 OC) increased from 0.062 (±0.004) to 0.102 (±0.001) (64.5% higher) and from 0.056 (±0.004) to 0.098 (±0.001) (75% higher) for cold morning and evening rush hours, with substantially greater increases at some sites. This “cold start” result suggests that the combination of recent vehicle driving history and ambient weather conditions, in conjunction with technological constraints on the operating temperature range of emission control systems in some vehicles, affects NOx emissions and hence has a detrimental impact upon air quality in urban environments. Increased cold start emissions imply an increased NO2 - derived health burden from air pollution, under certain meteorological conditions, assessment of which should consider changes in vehicle use as a result of weather, and hence altered personal exposure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-414
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Early online date14 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


  • Urban air quality
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Primary NO
  • Vehicle cold starts
  • Trend analysis
  • Vehicle emissions
  • Low temperature emissions


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