Probing into the aging dynamics of biomass burning aerosol by using satellite measurements of aerosol optical depth and carbon monoxide
Abstract. Carbonaceous aerosol released into the atmosphere from open biomass burning (BB) is known to undergo considerable chemical and physical transformations (aging). However, there is substantial controversy about the nature and observable effects of these transformations. A shortage of consistent observational evidence on BB aerosol aging processes under different environmental conditions and at various temporal scales hinders development of their adequate representations in chemistry transport models (CTMs). In this study, we obtain insights into the BB aerosol dynamics by using available satellite measurements of aerosol optical depth (AOD) and carbon monoxide (CO). The basic concept of our method is to consider AOD as a function of the BB aerosol
photochemical age (that is, the time period characterizing the exposure of BB aerosol emissions to atmospheric oxidation reactions) predicted by means of model tracers. We evaluate the AOD enhancement ratio (ER) defined as the ratio of optical depth of actual BB aerosol with respect to that of a modeled aerosol tracer that is assumed to originate from the same fires as the real BB aerosol but that is not affected by any aging processes. To limit possible effects of model transport errors, the AOD measurements are normalized to CO column amounts that are also retrieved from satellite measurements. The method is applied to the analysis of the meso- and synoptic-scale evolution of aerosol in smoke plumes from major wildfires that occurred in Siberia in summer 2012. AOD and CO retrievals from MODIS and IASI measurements, respectively, are used in combination with simulations performed with the CHIMERE CTM. The analysis indicates that aging processes strongly affected the evolution of BB aerosol in the situation considered, especially in dense plumes (with spatial average PM2. 5 concentration exceeding 100 µg m−3). For such plumes, the ER is found to increase almost 2-fold on the scale of ∼ 10 h of daytime aerosol evolution (after a few first hours of the evolution that are not resolved in our analysis). The robustness of this finding is corroborated by sensitivity tests and Monte Carlo experiments. Furthermore, a simulation using the volatility basis set framework suggests that a large part of the increase in the ER can be explained by atmospheric processing of semi-volatile organic compounds. Our results are consistent with findings of a number of earlier studies reporting considerable underestimation of AOD by CTMs in which BB aerosol aging processes have either been disregarded or simulated in a highly simplified way. In general, this study demonstrates the feasibility of using satellite measurements of AOD in biomass burning plumes in combination with aerosol tracer simulations for the investigation of BB aerosol evolution and validation of BB aerosol aging schemes in atmospheric models.