Source-specific light absorption by carbonaceous components in the complex aerosol matrix from yearly filter-based measurements

Moschos, Vaios; Gysel-Beer, Martin; Modini, Robin L.; Corbin, Joel C.; Massabò, Dario; Costa, Camilla; Danelli, Silvia G.; Vlachou, Athanasia; Daellenbach, Kaspar R.; Szidat, Sönke; Prati, Paolo; Prévôt, André S. H.; Baltensperger, Urs; El Haddad, Imad (2021). Source-specific light absorption by carbonaceous components in the complex aerosol matrix from yearly filter-based measurements. Atmospheric chemistry and physics, 21(17), pp. 12809-12833. European Geosciences Union 10.5194/acp-21-12809-2021

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Understanding the sources of light-absorbing organic (brown) carbon (BrC) and its interaction with black carbon (BC) and other non-refractory particulate matter (NRPM) fractions is important for reducing uncertainties in the aerosol direct radiative forcing. In this study, we combine multiple filter-based techniques to achieve long-term, spectrally resolved, source- and species-specific atmospheric absorption closure. We determine the mass absorption efficiency (MAE) in dilute bulk solutions at 370 nm to be equal to 1.4m2 g-1 for fresh biomass smoke, 0.7m2 g-1 for winter-oxygenated organic aerosol (OA), and 0.13m2 g-1 for other less absorbing OA. We apply Mie calculations to estimate the contributions of these fractions to total aerosol absorption. While enhanced absorption in the near-UV has been traditionally attributed to primary biomass smoke, here we show that anthropogenic oxygenated OA may be equally important for BrC absorption during winter, especially at an urban background site. We demonstrate that insoluble tar balls are negligible in residential biomass burning atmospheric samples of this study and thus could attribute the totality of the NR-PM absorption at shorter wavelengths to methanol-extractable BrC. As for BC, we show that the mass absorption cross-section (MAC) of this fraction is independent of its source, while we observe evidence for a filter-based lensing effect associated with the presence of NR-PM components. We find that bare BC has a MAC of 6.3m2 g-1 at 660 nm and an absorption Ångström exponent of 0.93±0.16, while in the presence of coatings its absorption is enhanced by a factor of ~1.4. Based on Mie calculations of closure between observed and predicted total light absorption, we provide an indication for a suppression of the filter-based lensing effect by BrC. The total absorption reduction remains modest, ~10 %–20% at 370 nm, and is restricted to shorter wavelengths, where BrC absorption is significant. Overall, our results allow an assessment of the relative importance of the different aerosol fractions to the total absorption for aerosols from a wide range of sources and atmospheric ages. When integrated with the solar spectrum at 300–900 nm, bare BC is found to contribute around twothirds of the solar radiation absorption by total carbonaceous aerosols, amplified by the filter-based lensing effect (with an interquartile range, IQR, of 8 %–27 %), while the IQR of the contributions by particulate BrC is 6 %–13% (13 %–20% at the rural site during winter). Future studies that will directly benefit from these results include (a) optical modelling aiming at understanding the absorption profiles of a complex aerosol composed of BrC, BC and lensing-inducing coatings; (b) source apportionment aiming at understanding the sources of BC and BrC from the aerosol absorption profiles; (c) global modelling aiming at quantifying the most important aerosol absorbers.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DCBP)

UniBE Contributor:

Szidat, Sönke


500 Science > 540 Chemistry




European Geosciences Union




Sönke Szidat

Date Deposited:

21 Sep 2021 14:30

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:53

Publisher DOI:





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