Articles | Volume 16, issue 15
Research article
03 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 03 Aug 2016

Biogenic cloud nuclei in the central Amazon during the transition from wet to dry season

James D. Whitehead, Eoghan Darbyshire, Joel Brito, Henrique M. J. Barbosa, Ian Crawford, Rafael Stern, Martin W. Gallagher, Paul H. Kaye, James D. Allan, Hugh Coe, Paulo Artaxo, and Gordon McFiggans

Abstract. The Amazon basin is a vast continental area in which atmospheric composition is relatively unaffected by anthropogenic aerosol particles. Understanding the properties of the natural biogenic aerosol particles over the Amazon rainforest is key to understanding their influence on regional and global climate. While there have been a number of studies during the wet season, and of biomass burning particles in the dry season, there has been relatively little work on the transition period – the start of the dry season in the absence of biomass burning. As part of the Brazil–UK Network for Investigation of Amazonian Atmospheric Composition and Impacts on Climate (BUNIAACIC) project, aerosol measurements, focussing on unpolluted biogenic air masses, were conducted at a remote rainforest site in the central Amazon during the transition from wet to dry season in July 2013. This period marks the start of the dry season but before significant biomass burning occurs in the region.

Median particle number concentrations were 266 cm−3, with size distributions dominated by an accumulation mode of 130–150 nm. During periods of low particle counts, a smaller Aitken mode could also be seen around 80 nm. While the concentrations were similar in magnitude to those seen during the wet season, the size distributions suggest an enhancement in the accumulation mode compared to the wet season, but not yet to the extent seen later in the dry season, when significant biomass burning takes place. Submicron nonrefractory aerosol composition, as measured by an aerosol chemical speciation monitor (ACSM), was dominated by organic material (around 81 %). Aerosol hygroscopicity was probed using measurements from a hygroscopicity tandem differential mobility analyser (HTDMA), and a quasi-monodisperse cloud condensation nuclei counter (CCNc). The hygroscopicity parameter, κ, was found to be low, ranging from 0.12 for Aitken-mode particles to 0.18 for accumulation-mode particles. This was consistent with previous studies in the region, but lower than similar measurements conducted in Borneo, where κ ranged 0.17–0.37.

A wide issue bioaerosol sensor (WIBS-3M) was deployed at ground level to probe the coarse mode, detecting primary biological aerosol by fluorescence (fluorescent biological aerosol particles, or FBAPs). The mean FBAP number concentration was 400 ± 242 L−1; however, this ranged from around 200 L−1 during the day to as much as 1200 L−1 at night. FBAPs dominated the coarse-mode particles, comprising between 55 and 75 % of particles during the day to more than 90 % at night. Non-FBAPs did not show a strong diurnal pattern. Comparison with previous FBAP measurements above canopy at the same location suggests there is a strong vertical gradient in FBAP concentrations through the canopy. Cluster analysis of the data suggests that FBAPs were dominated (around 70 %) by fungal spores. Further, long-term measurements will be required in order to fully examine the seasonal variability and distribution of primary biological aerosol particles through the canopy.

This is the first time that such a suite of measurements has been deployed at this site to investigate the chemical composition and properties of the biogenic contributions to Amazonian aerosol during the transition period from the wet to the dry season, and thus provides a unique comparison to the aerosol properties observed during the wet season in previous similar campaigns. This was also the first deployment of a WIBS in the Amazon rainforest to study coarse-mode particles, particularly primary biological aerosol particles, which are likely to play an important role as ice nuclei in the region.

Short summary
We present measurements of aerosols during the transition from wet to dry seasons at a pristine rainforest site in central Amazonia. By excluding pollution episodes, we focus on natural biogenic aerosols. Submicron aerosols are dominated by organic material, similar to previous wet season measurements. Larger particles are dominated by biological material, mostly fungal spores, with higher concentrations at night. This study provides important data on the nature of particles above the Amazon.
Final-revised paper