Capturing vertical profiles of aerosols and black carbon over the Indian Ocean using autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles
Abstract. Measurements of the vertical distribution of aerosol properties provide essential information for generating more accurate model estimates of radiative forcing and atmospheric heating rates compared with employing remotely sensed column averaged properties. A month long campaign over the Indian Ocean during March 2006 investigated the interaction of aerosol, clouds, and radiative effects. Routine vertical profiles of aerosol and water vapor were determined using autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with miniaturized instruments. Comparisons of these airborne instruments with established ground-based instruments and in aircraft-to-aircraft comparisons demonstrated an agreement within 10%.
Aerosol absorption optical depths measured directly using the unmanned aircraft differed from columnar AERONET sun-photometer results by only 20%. Measurements of total particle concentration, particle size distributions, aerosol absorption and black carbon concentrations are presented along with the trade wind thermodynamic structure from the surface to 3000 m above sea level. Early March revealed a well-mixed layer up to the cloud base at 500 m above mean sea level (m a.s.l.), followed by a decrease of aerosol concentrations with altitude. The second half of March saw the arrival of a high altitude plume existing above the mixed layer that originated from a continental source and increased aerosol concentrations by more than tenfold, yet the surface air mass showed little change in aerosol concentrations and was still predominantly influenced by marine sources. Black carbon concentrations at 1500 m above sea level increased from 70 ng/m3 to more than 800 ng/m3 with the arrival of this polluted plume. The absorption aerosol optical depth increased from as low as 0.005 to as much as 0.035 over the same period. The spectral dependence of the aerosol absorption revealed an absorption Angstrom exponent of 1.0, which is typical of an aerosol with most of its absorption attributed to black carbon and generally indicates the absorbing component originated from fossil fuel sources and other high-temperature combustion sources. The results indicate that surface measurements do not represent the aerosol properties within the elevated layers, especially if these layers are influenced by long range transport.