Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
15 Feb 2013
Research article |  | 15 Feb 2013

Long-term observations of aerosol size distributions in semi-clean and polluted savannah in South Africa

V. Vakkari, J. P. Beukes, H. Laakso, D. Mabaso, J. J. Pienaar, M. Kulmala, and L. Laakso

Abstract. This study presents a total of four years of sub-micron aerosol particle size distribution measurements in the southern African savannah, an environment with few previous observations covering a full seasonal cycle and the size range below 100 nm. During the first 19 months, July 2006–January 2008, the measurements were carried out at Botsalano, a semi-clean location, whereas during the latter part, February 2008–May 2010, the measurements were carried out at Marikana (approximately 150 km east of Botsalano), which is a more polluted location with both pyrometallurgical industries and informal settlements nearby.

The median total concentration of aerosol particles was more than four times as high at Marikana than at Botsalano. In the size ranges of 12–840 nm, 50–840 nm and 100–840 nm the median concentrations were 1856, 1278 and 698 particles cm−3 at Botsalano and 7805, 3843 and 1634 particles cm−3 at Marikana, respectively.

The diurnal variation of the size distribution for Botsalano arose as a result of frequent regional new particle formation. However, for Marikana the diurnal variation was dominated by the morning and evening household burning in the informal settlements, although regional new particle formation was even more frequent than at Botsalano. The effect of the industrial emissions was not discernible in the size distribution at Marikana although it was clear in the sulphur dioxide diurnal pattern, indicating the emissions to be mostly gaseous.

Seasonal variation was strongest in the concentration of particles larger than 100 nm, which was clearly elevated at both locations during the dry season from May to September. In the absence of wet removal during the dry season, the concentration of particles larger than 100 nm had a correlation above 0.7 with CO for both locations, which implies incomplete burning to be an important source of aerosol particles during the dry season. However, the sources of burning differ: at Botsalano the rise in concentration originates from regional wild fires, while at Marikana domestic heating in the informal settlements is the main source.

Air mass history analysis for Botsalano identified four regional scale source areas in southern Africa and enabled the differentiation between fresh and aged rural background aerosol originating from the clean sector, i.e., western sector with very few large anthropogenic sources. Comparison to size distributions published for other comparable environments in Northern Hemisphere shows southern African savannah to have a unique combination of sources and meteorological parameters. The observed strong link between combustion and seasonal variation is comparable only to the Amazon basin; however, the lack of long-term observations in the Amazonas does not allow a quantitative comparison.

All the data presented in the figures, as well as the time series of monthly mean and median size distributions are included in numeric form as a Supplement to provide a reference point for the aerosol modelling community.

Final-revised paper