Contribution of particulate brown carbon to light absorption in the rural and urban Southeast US


Measurements of wavelength dependent aerosol light absorption coefficients were carried out as part of the Southern Oxidant and Aerosol Study (SOAS) during the summer of 2013 to determine the contribution of light absorbing organic carbon (BrC) to total aerosol light absorption in a rural location (Centreville, AL) and an urban area (Atlanta, GA). The light absorption coefficients in the near UV and visible wavelengths were measured for both ambient air, as well as ambient air heated in a thermal denuder to 200 °C to remove the semi-volatile organic compounds. Atlanta measurements show dominance of semi-volatile brown carbon with an average absorption angstrom exponent (AAE) of 1.4 before heating and about 1.0 after heating. In urban Atlanta, a decrease of about ~35% in the light absorption coefficient at 370 nm after heating indicates that light absorbing organic compounds are a substantial fraction of the light absorption budget. Furthermore, a considerable increase in the fraction of light absorption by the semi-volatile aerosol occurs during the daytime, likely linked with photochemistry. Measurements at rural Centerville, on the other hand, do not show any major change in AAE with values before and after heating of 0.99 and 0.98, respectively. Overall the results suggest that photochemical aged urban emissions result in the presence of light absorbing BrC, while at rural locations which are dominated by aged aerosol and local biogenic emissions (based on measurements of Angstrom exponents) BrC does not significantly contribute to light absorption.