Black carbon in the Arctic: The underestimated role of gas flaring and residential combustion emissions
Arctic haze is a seasonal phenomenon with high concentrations of accumulation-mode aerosols occurring in the Arctic in winter and early spring. Chemistry transport models and climate chemistry models struggle to reproduce this phenomenon, and this has recently prompted changes in aerosol removal schemes to remedy the modeling problems. In this paper, we show that shortcomings in current emission data sets are at least as important. We perform a 3 yr model simulation of black carbon (BC) with the Lagrangian particle dispersion model FLEXPART. The model is driven with a new emission data set ("ECLIPSE emissions") which includes emissions from gas flaring. While gas flaring is estimated to contribute less than 3% of global BC emissions in this data set, flaring dominates the estimated BC emissions in the Arctic (north of 66° N). Putting these emissions into our model, we find that flaring contributes 42% to the annual mean BC surface concentrations in the Arctic. In March, flaring even accounts for 52% of all Arctic BC near the surface. Most of the flaring BC remains close to the surface in the Arctic, so that the flaring contribution to BC in the middle and upper troposphere is small. Another important factor determining simulated BC concentrations is the seasonal variation of BC emissions from residential combustion (often also called domestic combustion, which is used synonymously in this paper). We have calculated daily residential combustion emissions using the heating degree day (HDD) concept based on ambient air temperature and compare results from model simulations using emissions with daily, monthly and annual time resolution. In January, the Arctic-mean surface concentrations of BC due to residential combustion emissions are 150% higher when using daily emissions than when using annually constant emissions. While there are concentration reductions in summer, they are smaller than the winter increases, leading to a systematic increase of annual mean Arctic BC surface concentrations due to residential combustion by 68% when using daily emissions. A large part (93%) of this systematic increase can be captured also when using monthly emissions; the increase is compensated by a decreased BC burden at lower latitudes. In a comparison with BC measurements at six Arctic stations, we find that using daily-varying residential combustion emissions and introducing gas flaring emissions leads to large improvements of the simulated Arctic BC, both in terms of mean concentration levels and simulated seasonality. Case studies based on BC and carbon monoxide (CO) measurements from the Zeppelin observatory appear to confirm flaring as an important BC source that can produce pollution plumes in the Arctic with a high BC / CO enhancement ratio, as expected for this source type. BC measurements taken during a research ship cruise in the White, Barents and Kara seas north of the region with strong flaring emissions reveal very high concentrations of the order of 200–400 ng m−3. The model underestimates these concentrations substantially, which indicates that the flaring emissions (and probably also other emissions in northern Siberia) are rather under- than overestimated in our emission data set. Our results suggest that it may not be "vertical transport that is too strong or scavenging rates that are too low" and "opposite biases in these processes" in the Arctic and elsewhere in current aerosol models, as suggested in a recent review article (Bond et al., Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: a scientific assessment, J. Geophys. Res., 2013), but missing emission sources and lacking time resolution of the emission data that are causing opposite model biases in simulated BC concentrations in the Arctic and in the mid-latitudes.