Articles | Volume 10, issue 14
20 Jul 2010
 | 20 Jul 2010

Moisture effects on carbon and nitrogen emission from burning of wildland biomass

L.-W. A. Chen, P. Verburg, A. Shackelford, D. Zhu, R. Susfalk, J. C. Chow, and J. G. Watson

Abstract. Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) released from biomass burning have multiple effects on the Earth's biogeochemical cycle, climate change, and ecosystem. These effects depend on the relative abundances of C and N species emitted, which vary with fuel type and combustion conditions. This study systematically investigates the emission characteristics of biomass burning under different fuel moisture contents, through controlled burning experiments with biomass and soil samples collected from a typical alpine forest in North America. Fuel moisture in general lowers combustion efficiency, shortens flaming phase, and introduces prolonged smoldering before ignition. It increases emission factors of incompletely oxidized C and N species, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and ammonia (NH3). Substantial particulate carbon and nitrogen (up to 4 times C in CO and 75% of N in NH3) were also generated from high-moisture fuels, maily associated with the pre-flame smoldering. This smoldering process emits particles that are larger and contain lower elemental carbon fractions than soot agglomerates commonly observed in flaming smoke. Hydrogen (H)/C ratio and optical properties of particulate matter from the high-moisture fuels show their resemblance to plant cellulous and brown carbon, respectively. These findings have implications for modeling biomass burning emissions and impacts.

Final-revised paper