21 Oct 2020

21 Oct 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal AMT.

Undersizing of Aged African Biomass Burning Aerosol by an Ultra High Sensitivity Aerosol Spectrometer

Steven G. Howell1, Steffen Freitag1, Amie Dobracki1,a, Nikolai Smirnow1,b, and Arthur J. Sedlacek III2 Steven G. Howell et al.
  • 1University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Oceanography, Honolulu, HI USA
  • 2Brookhaven National Laboratory, US Department of Energy, Upton, NY USA
  • anow at: Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, FL USA
  • bnow at: NetApp, Boulder, CO USA

Abstract. The Ultra-High Sensitivity Aerosol Spectrometer (UHSAS) differs from most other optical particle spectrometers by using a high-power infrared (IR) laser to detect small particles and reduce the sizing ambiguity due to the non-monotonicity of scattering with particle size.

During the NASA ORACLES project (ObseRvations of Aerosols above CLouds and their intEractionS) over the southeast Atlantic Ocean, the UHSAS clearly undersized particles in the biomass burning plume extending from Southern Africa. Since the horizontal and vertical extent of the plume was vast, the NASA P-3B research aircraft often flew through a fairly uniform biomass burning plume for periods exceeding 30 minutes, sufficient time to explore the details of the UHSAS response by selecting single particle sizes with a Differential Mobility Analyzer (DMA) and passing them to the UHSAS. This was essentially an in-flight calibration of the UHSAS using the particles of interest. Two modes of responses appeared. Most particles were undersized by moderate amounts, ranging from not at all for 70 nm aerosols to 15 % for 280 nm particles. Mie scattering calculations show that composition-dependent refractive index of the particles is unlikely to explain the pattern. Heating of brown carbon or tarballs in the beam causing evaporation and shrinking of the particles is the most plausible explanation, though that requires greater IR absorption than is usually attributed to brown carbon. 10–30 % of the particles were undersized by 25 to 35 %. Those were apparently the particles containing refractory black carbon. Laboratory calibrations confirm that black carbon is drastically undersized by the UHSAS, though the mechanism is not entirely clear.

A simple empirical correction equation was implemented that dramatically improves agreement with DMA distributions between 100 and 500 nm. It raised median particle diameter 18 nm, from 163 to 181 nm during the August 2017 deployment and by smaller amounts during deployments with less intense pollution. Calculated scattering from UHSAS size distributions increased by about 130 %, dramatically improving agreement with scattering measured by nephelometers. The correction is only valid in polluted instances; clean marine boundary layer and free troposphere aerosols behaved more like the calibration spheres. We were unable to directly test the correction between 500 and 1000 nm, though APS data appear to show that the correction is poor at the largest diameters, which is no surprise as the composition of those particles is likely to be quite different than that of the accumulation mode. This adds to the evidence that UHSAS data must be treated cautiously whenever the aerosol may absorb infrared light. Similar corrections may be required whenever brown carbon aerosol is present.

Steven G. Howell et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment

Steven G. Howell et al.

Data sets

Suite of Aerosol, Cloud, and Related Data Acquired Aboard P3 During ORACLES 2018, Version 2 ORACLES Science Team

Suite of Aerosol, Cloud, and Related Data Acquired Aboard P3 During ORACLES 2017, Version 2 ORACLES Science Team

Suite of Aerosol, Cloud, and Related Data Acquired Aboard P3 During ORACLES 2016, Version 2 ORACLES Science Team

Steven G. Howell et al.


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Short summary
Small particles in the air play have important effects on visibility, clouds, and human health. For the ORACLES project we got a new particle sizing instrument that is fast, works over the most important particle sizes, and avoids some of the issues that plague other optical particle sizers. Unfortunately it sees particles much smaller than they really are, probably because they heat up and evaporate. We show a crude correction and speculate why these particles heat so much more than expected.