Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2018, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (5): 563-578.doi: 10.1007/s11442-018-1491-z

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Spatiotemporal characteristics of urban air quality in China and geographic detection of their determinants

Xiaoping ZHANG(), Zezhou GONG   

  1. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2017-05-31 Accepted:2017-11-18 Online:2018-03-30 Published:2018-03-31
  • About author:

    Author: Zhang Xiaoping, PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in regional sustainable development. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41771133;Science and Technology Service (STS) Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.KFJ-EW-STS-089


Ambient air pollution brought by the rapid economic development and industrial production in China has exerted a significant influence on socio-economic activities and public health, especially in the densely populated urban areas. Therefore, scientific examination of regional variation of urban air quality and its dominant factors is of great importance to regional environmental management. Based on daily air quality index (AQI) datasets spanning from 2014 to 2016, this study analysed the spatiotemporal characteristics of air quality across different regions throughout China and ascertained the determinants of urban air quality in disparate regions. The main findings are as follows: (1) The annual average value of the urban AQI in China decreased from 2014 to 2016, indicating a desirable trend in air quality at the national scale. (2) The attainment rate of the urban AQI exhibited an apparent spatially stratified heterogeneity, wherein North China retained a high AQI value. The increase of Moran’s I Index reported an apparent spillover effect among adjacent regions. (3) Both at the national and regional scales, the seasonal tendency of air quality in each year is similar, wherein good in summer and relatively poor in winter. (4) Results drawn from the Geographic Detector analysis show that dominant factors influencing AQI vary significantly across urban agglomerations. Topographical and meteorological variations in urban areas may lead to complex spatiotemporal variations in pollutant concentration. Whereas given the same natural conditions, the human-dominated factors, such as industrial structure and urban form, exert significant impacts on urban air quality.The spatial spillover effects and regional heterogeneity of urban air quality illustrated in this study suggest the governments and institutions should set priority to the importance of regional cooperation and collaboration in light of environment regulation and pollution prevention.

Key words: Air Quality Index (AQI), spatiotemporal characteristics, geographic detector, China