Articles | Volume 17, issue 3
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 2477–2493, 2017
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 2477–2493, 2017

Research article 16 Feb 2017

Research article | 16 Feb 2017

Regional influence of wildfires on aerosol chemistry in the western US and insights into atmospheric aging of biomass burning organic aerosol

Shan Zhou1, Sonya Collier1, Daniel A. Jaffe2,3, Nicole L. Briggs2,3,4, Jonathan Hee2,3, Arthur J. Sedlacek III5, Lawrence Kleinman5, Timothy B. Onasch6, and Qi Zhang1 Shan Zhou et al.
  • 1Department of Environmental Toxicology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA
  • 2School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, University of Washington Bothell, Bothell, WA 98011, USA
  • 3Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
  • 4Gradient, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
  • 5Environmental and Climate Sciences Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973, USA
  • 6Aerodyne Research Inc., Billerica, MA 01821, USA

Abstract. Biomass burning (BB) is one of the most important contributors to atmospheric aerosols on a global scale, and wildfires are a large source of emissions that impact regional air quality and global climate. As part of the Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP) field campaign in summer 2013, we deployed a high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-AMS) coupled with a thermodenuder at the Mt. Bachelor Observatory (MBO, ∼  2.8 km above sea level) to characterize the impact of wildfire emissions on aerosol loading and properties in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. MBO represents a remote background site in the western US, and it is frequently influenced by transported wildfire plumes during summer. Very clean conditions were observed at this site during periods without BB influence where the 5 min average (±1σ) concentration of non-refractory submicron aerosols (NR-PM1) was 3.7 ± 4.2 µg m−3. Aerosol concentration increased substantially (reaching up to 210 µg m−3 of NR-PM1) for periods impacted by transported BB plumes, and aerosol composition was overwhelmingly organic. Based on positive matrix factorization (PMF) of the HR-AMS data, three types of BB organic aerosol (BBOA) were identified, including a fresh, semivolatile BBOA-1 (O ∕ C  =  0.35; 20 % of OA mass) that correlated well with ammonium nitrate; an intermediately oxidized BBOA-2 (O ∕ C  =  0.60; 17 % of OA mass); and a highly oxidized BBOA-3 (O ∕ C  =  1.06; 31 % of OA mass) that showed very low volatility with only  ∼  40 % mass loss at 200 °C. The remaining 32 % of the OA mass was attributed to a boundary layer (BL) oxygenated OA (BL-OOA; O ∕ C  =  0.69) representing OA influenced by BL dynamics and a low-volatility oxygenated OA (LV-OOA; O ∕ C  =  1.09) representing regional aerosols in the free troposphere. The mass spectrum of BBOA-3 resembled that of LV-OOA and had negligible contributions from the HR-AMS BB tracer ions – C2H4O2+ (mz = 60.021) and C3H5O2+ (mz = 73.029); nevertheless, it was unambiguously related to wildfire emissions. This finding highlights the possibility that the influence of BB emission could be underestimated in regional air masses where highly oxidized BBOA (e.g., BBOA-3) might be a significant aerosol component but where primary BBOA tracers, such as levoglucosan, are depleted. We also examined OA chemical evolution for persistent BB plume events originating from a single fire source and found that longer solar radiation led to higher mass fraction of the chemically aged BBOA-2 and BBOA-3 and more oxidized aerosol. However, an analysis of the enhancement ratios of OA relative to CO (ΔOA ∕ΔCO) showed little difference between BB plumes transported primarily at night versus during the day, despite evidence of substantial chemical transformation in OA induced by photooxidation. These results indicate negligible net OA production in photochemically aged wildfire plumes observed in this study, for which a possible reason is that SOA formation was almost entirely balanced by BBOA volatilization. Nevertheless, the formation and chemical transformation of BBOA during atmospheric transport can significantly influence downwind sites with important implications for health and climate.

Short summary
Wildfire plumes in the western US were sampled at a high-elevation site in summer 2013. Three distinct BBOA types were identified, representing biomass burning OA with different degrees of atmospheric processing. Analysis of consecutive BB plumes transported from the same fire source showed that photooxidation led to enhanced mass fractions of aged BBOAs but negligible net OA production. A possible reason is that SOA formation was almost entirely balanced by BBOA volatilization during transport.
Final-revised paper