Background aerosol over the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau: observed characteristics of aerosol mass loading
Abstract. To investigate the atmospheric aerosols of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau (HTP), an observation network was established within the region's various ecosystems, including at the Ngari, Qomolangma (QOMS), Nam Co, and Southeastern Tibetan (SET) stations. In this paper we illustrate aerosol mass loadings by integrating in situ measurements with satellite and ground-based remote sensing datasets for the 2011–2013 period, on both local and large scales. Mass concentrations of these surface atmospheric aerosols were relatively low and varied with land cover, showing a general tendency of Ngari and QOMS (barren sites) > Nam Co (grassland site) > SET (forest site). Daily averages of online PM2.5 (particulates with aerodynamic diameters below 2.5 µm) at these sites were sequentially 18.2 ± 8.9, 14.5 ± 7.4, 11.9 ± 4.9 and 11.7 ± 4.7 µg m−3. Correspondingly, the ratios of PM2.5 to total suspended particles (TSP) were 27.4 ± 6.65, 22.3 ± 10.9, 37.3 ± 11.1 and 54.4 ± 6.72 %. Bimodal mass distributions of size-segregated particles were found at all sites, with a relatively small peak in accumulation mode and a more notable peak in coarse mode. Diurnal variations in fine-aerosol masses generally displayed a bi-peak pattern at the QOMS, Nam Co and SET stations and a single-peak pattern at the Ngari station, controlled by the effects of local geomorphology, mountain-valley breeze circulation and aerosol emissions. Dust aerosol content in PM2.1 samples gave fractions of 26 % at the Ngari station and 29 % at the QOMS station, or ∼ 2–3 times that of reported results at human-influenced sites. Furthermore, observed evidence confirmed the existence of the aerodynamic conditions necessary for the uplift of fine particles from a barren land surface. Combining surface aerosol data and atmospheric-column aerosol optical properties, the TSP mass and aerosol optical depth (AOD) of the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) generally decreased as land cover changed from barren to forest, in inverse relation to the PM2.5 ratios. The seasonality of aerosol mass parameters was land-cover dependent. Over forest and grassland areas, TSP mass, PM2.5 mass, MISR-AOD and fine-mode AOD were higher in spring and summer, followed by relatively lower values in autumn and winter. At the barren site (the QOMS station), there were inconsistent seasonal patterns between surface TSP mass (PM2.5 mass) and atmospheric column AOD (fine-mode AOD). Our findings implicate that HTP aerosol masses (especially their regional characteristics and fine-particle emissions) need to be treated sensitively in relation to assessments of their climatic effect and potential role as cloud condensation nuclei and ice nuclei.