Articles | Volume 6, issue 12
10 Nov 2006
10 Nov 2006

Change in global aerosol composition since preindustrial times

K. Tsigaridis, M. Krol, F. J. Dentener, Y. Balkanski, J. Lathière, S. Metzger, D. A. Hauglustaine, and M. Kanakidou

Abstract. To elucidate human induced changes of aerosol load and composition in the atmosphere, a coupled aerosol and gas-phase chemistry transport model of the troposphere and lower stratosphere has been used. The present 3-D modeling study focuses on aerosol chemical composition change since preindustrial times considering the secondary organic aerosol formation together with all other main aerosol components including nitrate. In particular, we evaluate non-sea-salt sulfate (nss-SO4=), ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3), black carbon (BC), sea-salt, dust, primary and secondary organics (POA and SOA) with a focus on the importance of secondary organic aerosols. Our calculations show that the aerosol optical depth (AOD) has increased by about 21% since preindustrial times. This enhancement of AOD is attributed to a rise in the atmospheric load of BC, nss-SO4=, NO3, POA and SOA by factors of 3.3, 2.6, 2.7, 2.3 and 1.2, respectively, whereas we assumed that the natural dust and sea-salt sources remained constant. The nowadays increase in carbonaceous aerosol loading is dampened by a 34–42% faster conversion of hydrophobic to hydrophilic carbonaceous aerosol leading to higher removal rates. These changes between the various aerosol components resulted in significant modifications of the aerosol chemical composition. The relative importance of the various aerosol components is critical for the aerosol climatic effect, since atmospheric aerosols behave differently when their chemical composition changes. According to this study, the aerosol composition changed significantly over the different continents and with height since preindustrial times. The presence of anthropogenically emitted primary particles in the atmosphere facilitates the condensation of the semi-volatile species that form SOA onto the aerosol phase, particularly in the boundary layer. The SOA burden that is dominated by the natural component has increased by 24% while its contribution to the AOD has increased by 11%. The increase in oxidant levels and preexisting aerosol mass since preindustrial times is the reason of the burden change, since emissions have not changed significantly. The computed aerosol composition changes translate into about 2.5 times more water associated with non sea-salt aerosol. Additionally, aerosols contain 2.7 times more inorganic components nowadays than during the preindustrial times. We find that the increase in emissions of inorganic aerosol precursors is much larger than the corresponding aerosol increase, reflecting a non-linear atmospheric response.

Final-revised paper