Articles | Volume 16, issue 19
Research article
10 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 10 Oct 2016

Detection of Saharan dust and biomass burning events using near-real-time intensive aerosol optical properties in the north-western Mediterranean

Marina Ealo, Andrés Alastuey, Anna Ripoll, Noemí Pérez, María Cruz Minguillón, Xavier Querol, and Marco Pandolfi

Abstract. The study of Saharan dust events (SDEs) and biomass burning (BB) emissions are both topics of great scientific interest since they are frequent and important polluting scenarios affecting air quality and climate. The main aim of this work is evaluating the feasibility of using near-real-time in situ aerosol optical measurements for the detection of these atmospheric events in the western Mediterranean Basin (WMB). With this aim, intensive aerosol optical properties (SAE: scattering Ångström exponent, AAE: absorption Ångström exponent, SSAAE: single scattering albedo Ångström exponent and g: asymmetry parameter) were derived from multi-wavelength aerosol light scattering, hemispheric backscattering and absorption measurements performed at regional (Montseny; MSY, 720 m a.s.l.) and continental (Montsec; MSA, 1570 m a.s.l.) background sites in the WMB. A sensitivity study aiming at calibrating the measured intensive optical properties for SDEs and BB detection is presented and discussed.

The detection of SDEs by means of the SSAAE parameter and Ångström matrix (made up by SAE and AAE) depended on the altitude of the measurement station and on SDE intensity. At MSA (mountain-top site) SSAAE detected around 85 % of SDEs compared with 50 % at the MSY station, where pollution episodes dominated by fine anthropogenic particles frequently masked the effect of mineral dust on optical properties during less intense SDEs. Furthermore, an interesting feature of SSAAE was its capability to detect the presence of mineral dust after the end of SDEs. Thus, resuspension processes driven by summer regional atmospheric circulations and dry conditions after SDEs favoured the accumulation of mineral dust at regional level having important consequences for air quality. On average, SAE, AAE and g ranged between −0.7 and 1, 1.3 and 2.5 and 0.5 and 0.75 respectively during SDEs.

Based on the aethalometer model, BB contribution to equivalent black carbon (BC) accounted for 36 and 40 % at MSY and MSA respectively. Linear relationships were found between AAE and %BCbb, with AAE values reaching around 1.5 when %BCbb was higher than 50 %. BB contribution to organic matter (OM) at MSY was around 30 %. Thus fossil fuel (FF) combustion sources showed important contributions to both BC and OM in the region under study. Results for OM source apportionment showed good agreement with simultaneous biomass burning organic aerosol (BBOA) and hydrocarbon-like organic aerosol (HOA) obtained by applying a positive matrix factorization model (PMF) to simultaneous Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitor (ACSM) measurements. A wildfire episode was identified at MSY, showing AAE values up to 2 when daily BB contributions to BC and OM were 73 and 78 % respectively.

Short summary
The present work demonstrates the potential of in situ aerosol optical measurements, from both nephelometer and aethalometer instruments, for detecting specific air pollution scenarios in near real time. Given the high sensitivity of the intensive aerosol optical properties to characterize atmospheric aerosols, these parameters were calibrated in order to detect Saharan dust and biomass burning events at regional (Montseny) and continental (Montsec) environments in the NW Mediterranean.
Final-revised paper