Articles | Volume 11, issue 16
Research article
15 Aug 2011
Research article |  | 15 Aug 2011

Impact of a large wildfire on water-soluble organic aerosol in a major urban area: the 2009 Station Fire in Los Angeles County

A. Wonaschütz, S. P. Hersey, A. Sorooshian, J. S. Craven, A. R. Metcalf, R. C. Flagan, and J. H. Seinfeld

Abstract. This study examines the nature of water-soluble organic aerosol measured in Pasadena, CA, under typical conditions and under the influence of a large wildfire (the 2009 Station Fire). During non-fire periods, water-soluble organic carbon (WSOC) variability was driven by photochemical production processes and sea breeze transport, resulting in an average diurnal cycle with a maximum at 15:00 local time (up to 4.9 μg C m−3). During the Station Fire, primary production was a key formation mechanism for WSOC. High concentrations of WSOC (up to 41 μg C m−3) in smoke plumes advected to the site in the morning hours were tightly correlated with nitrate and chloride, numerous aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) organic mass spectral markers, and total non-refractory organic mass. Processed residual smoke was transported to the measurement site by the sea breeze later in the day, leading to higher afternoon WSOC levels than on non-fire days. Parameters representing higher degrees of oxidation of organics, including the ratios of the organic metrics m/z 44:m/z 57 and m/z 44:m/z 43, were elevated in those air masses. Intercomparisons of relative amounts of WSOC, organics, m/z 44, and m/z 43 show that the fraction of WSOC comprising acid-oxygenates increased as a function of photochemical aging owing to the conversion of aliphatic and non-acid oxygenated organics to more acid-like organics. The contribution of water-soluble organic species to the organic mass budget (10th–90th percentile values) ranged between 27 %–72 % and 27 %–68 % during fire and non-fire periods, respectively. The seasonal incidence of wildfires in the Los Angeles Basin greatly enhances the importance of water-soluble organics, which has implications for the radiative and hygroscopic properties of the regional aerosol.

Final-revised paper