Articles | Volume 15, issue 18
Research article
29 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 29 Sep 2015

Chemical characterization of submicron aerosol and particle growth events at a national background site (3295 m a.s.l.) on the Tibetan Plateau

W. Du, Y. L. Sun, Y. S. Xu, Q. Jiang, Q. Q. Wang, W. Yang, F. Wang, Z. P. Bai, X. D. Zhao, and Y. C. Yang

Abstract. Atmospheric aerosols exert highly uncertain impacts on radiative forcing and also have detrimental effects on human health. While aerosol particles are widely characterized in megacities in China, aerosol composition, sources and particle growth in rural areas in the Tibetan Plateau remain less understood. Here we present the results from an autumn study that was conducted from 5 September to 15 October 2013 at a national background monitoring station (3295 m a.s.l.) in the Tibetan Plateau. The submicron aerosol composition and particle number size distributions were measured in situ with an Aerodyne Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitor (ACSM) and a Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer (SMPS). The average mass concentration of submicron aerosol (PM1) is 11.4 μg m−3 (range: 1.0–78.4 μg m−3) for the entire study, which is much lower than observed at urban and rural sites in eastern China. Organics dominated PM1, accounting for 43 % on average, followed by sulfate (28 %) and ammonium (11 %). Positive Matrix Factorization analysis of ACSM organic aerosol (OA) mass spectra identified an oxygenated OA (OOA) and a biomass burning OA (BBOA). The OOA dominated OA composition, accounting for 85 % on average, 17 % of which was inferred from aged BBOA. The BBOA contributed a considerable fraction of OA (15 %) due to the burning of cow dung and straw in September. New particle formation and growth events were frequently observed (80 % of time) throughout the study. The average particle growth rate is 2.0 nm h−1 (range: 0.8–3.2 nm h−1). By linking the evolution of particle number size distribution to aerosol composition, we found an elevated contribution of organics during particle growth periods and also a positive relationship between the growth rate and the fraction of OOA in OA, which potentially indicates an important role of organics in particle growth in the Tibetan Plateau.

Short summary
A fall field campaign was conducted at a national background site (3295m a.s.l.) over the Tibetan Plateau. The submicron aerosol was dominated by organics (43%) and sulfate (28%). Secondary organic aerosol (SOA) dominated OA (85%), 17% of which being aged biomass burning OA. New particle formation and growth events were frequently observed, with an average particle growth rate of 2.0nm per hour. The important role of organics in particle growth in the Tibetan Plateau was also demonstrated.
Final-revised paper