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Size-resolved measurements of brown carbon in water and methanol extracts and estimates of their contribution to ambient fine-particle light absorption

by J. Liu, M. Bergin, H. Guo, L. King, N. Kotra, E. Edgerton, R. J. Weber
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()


Light absorbing organic carbon, often called brown carbon, has the potential to significantly contribute to the visible light-absorption budget, particularly at shorter wavelengths. Currently, the relative contributions of particulate brown carbon to light absorption, as well as the sources of brown carbon, are poorly understood. With this in mind size-resolved direct measurements of brown carbon were made at both urban (Atlanta), and rural (Yorkville) sites in Georgia. Measurements in Atlanta were made at both a representative urban site and a road-side site adjacent to a main highway. Fine particle absorption was measured with a multi-angle absorption photometer (MAAP) and seven-wavelength Aethalometer, and brown carbon absorption was estimated based on Mie calculations using direct size-resolved measurements of chromophores in solvents. Size-resolved samples were collected using a cascade impactor and analyzed for water-soluble organic carbon (WSOC), organic and elemental carbon (OC and EC), and solution light-absorption spectra of water and methanol extracts. Methanol extracts were more light-absorbing than water extracts for all size ranges and wavelengths. Absorption refractive indices of the organic extracts were calculated from solution measurements for a range of wavelengths and used with Mie theory to predict the light absorption by fine particles comprised of these components, under the assumption that brown carbon and other aerosol components were externally mixed. For all three sites, chromophores were predominately in the accumulation mode with an aerodynamic mean diameter of 0.5 mu m, an optically effective size range resulting in predicted particle light absorption being a factor of 2 higher than bulk solution absorption. Mie-predicted brown carbon absorption at 350 nm contributed a significant fraction (20 to 40 %) relative to total light absorption, with the highest contributions at the rural site where organic to elemental carbon ratios were highest. Brown carbon absorption, however, was highest by the roadside site due to vehicle emissions. The direct size-resolved measurement of brown carbon in solution definitively shows that it is present and optically important in the near-UV range in both a rural and urban environment during the summer when biomass burning emissions are low. These results allow estimates of brown carbon aerosol absorption from direct measurements of chromophores in aerosol extracts.

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