Measurements of aerosol chemical composition made on the island of Lampedusa, south of the Sicily channel, during years 2004-2008, are used to identify the influence of heavy fuel oil (HFO) combustion emissions on aerosol particles in the Central Mediterranean. Aerosol samples influenced by HFO are characterized by elevated Ni and V soluble fraction (about 80% for aerosol from HFO combustion, versus about 40% for crustal particles), high V and Ni to Si ratios, and values of V-sol > 6 ng m(-3). Evidence of HFO combustion influence is found in 17% of the daily samples. Back trajectories analysis on the selected events show that air masses prevalently come from the Sicily channel region, where an intense ship traffic occurs. This behavior suggests that single fixed sources like refineries are not the main responsible for the elevated V and Ni events, which are probably mainly due to ships emissions. V-sol, Ni-sol, and non-sea salt SO42- (nssSO(4)(2-)) show a marked seasonal behaviour, with an evident summer maximum. Such a pattern can be explained by several processes: (i) increased photochemical activity in summer, leading to a faster production of secondary aerosols, mainly nssSO(4)(2-), from the oxidation of SO2 (ii) stronger marine boundary layer (MBL) stability in summer, leading to higher concentration of emitted compounds in the lowest atmospheric layers. A very intense event in spring 2008 was studied in detail, also using size segregated chemical measurements. These data show that elements arising from heavy oil combustion (V, Ni, Al, Fe) are distributed in the sub-micrometric fraction of the aerosol, and the metals are present as free metals, carbonates, oxides hydrates or labile complex with organic ligands, so that they are dissolved in mild condition (HNO3, pH1.5). Data suggest a characteristic nssSO(4)(2-)/V ratio in the range 200-400 for HFO combustion aerosols in summer at Lampedusa. By using the value of 200 a lower limit for the HFO contribution to total sulphates is estimated. HFO combustion emissions account, as a summer average, at least for 1.2 mu g m(-3), representing about 30% of the total nssSO(4)(2-), 3.9% of PM10, 8% of PM2.5, and 11% of PM1. Within the used dataset, sulphate from HFO combustion emissions reached the peak value of 6.1 mu g m(-3) on 26 June 2008, when it contributed by 47% to nssSO(4)(2-), and by 15% to PM10.
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