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Quantification of organic aerosol and brown carbon evolution in fresh wildfire plumes

Author(s): Brett B. Palm, Qiaoyun Peng, Carley D. Fredrickson, Ben H. Lee, Lauren A. Garofalo, Matson A. Pothier, Sonia M. Kreidenweis, Delphine K. Farmer, Rudra P. Pokhrel, Yingjie Shen, Shane M. Murphy, Wade Permar, Lu Hu, Teresa L. Campos, Samuel R. Hall, Kirk Ullmann, Xuan Zhang, Frank Flocke, Emily V. Fischer, Joel A. Thornton
Year Published: 2020

Significance: Wildfire emissions in the western United States have had increasingly larger impacts on air quality, health, and climate forcing in recent decades. However, our understanding of how wildfire plume composition evolves remains incomplete. Particularly, the evolution of carbonaceous material, including fine particle mass (PM2.5) and light-absorbing brown carbon, has remained elusive because of limited knowledge about the interplay between primary emissions and subsequent chemical and physical transformations that convert material between vapors and particles. Using a comprehensive analysis of in situ wildfire smoke measurements in combination with simulation chamber experiments, we quantitatively assess primary versus secondary organic particulate matter and brown carbon light absorption in authentic wildfires plumes. These results improve our fundamental knowledge of wildfire plume composition and evolution.

Abstract: The evolution of organic aerosol (OA) and brown carbon (BrC) in wildfire plumes, including the relative contributions of primary versus secondary sources, has been uncertain in part because of limited knowledge of the precursor emissions and the chemical environment of smoke plumes. We made airborne measurements of a suite of reactive trace gases, particle composition, and optical properties in fresh western US wildfire smoke in July through August 2018. We use these observations to quantify primary versus secondary sources of biomass-burning OA (BBPOA versus BBSOA) and BrC in wildfire plumes. When a daytime wildfire plume dilutes by a factor of 5 to 10, we estimate that up to one-third of the primary OA has evaporated and subsequently reacted to form BBSOA with near unit yield. The reactions of measured BBSOA precursors contribute only 13 ± 3% of the total BBSOA source, with evaporated BBPOA comprising the rest. We find that oxidation of phenolic compounds contributes the majority of BBSOA from emitted vapors. The corresponding particulate nitrophenolic compounds are estimated to explain 29 ± 15% of average BrC light absorption at 405 nm (BrC Abs405) measured in the first few hours of plume evolution, despite accounting for just 4 ± 2% of average OA mass. These measurements provide quantitative constraints on the role of dilution-driven evaporation of OA and subsequent radical-driven oxidation on the fate of biomass-burning OA and BrC in daytime wildfire plumes and point to the need to understand how processing of nighttime emissions differs.

Citation: Palm BB, Peng Q, Fredrickson CD, Lee BH, Garofalo LA, Pothier MA, Kreidenweis SM, Farmer DK, Pokhrel RP, Shen Y, Murphy SM, Permar W, Hu L, Campos TL, Hall SR, Ullmann K, Zhang X, Flocke F, Fischer EV, and Thornton JA. 2020. Quantification of organic aerosol and brown carbon evolution in fresh wildfire plumes. PNAS Online November 4, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2012218117
Topic(s): Smoke & Air Quality, Smoke Emissions, Smoke Emissions and Inventory
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22162
Record updated: Nov 5, 2020