Chemical characteristics of brown carbon in atmospheric particles at a suburban site near Guangzhou, China

Yi Ming Qin, Hao Bo Tan, Yong Jie Li, Zhu Jie Li, Misha I. Schurman, Li Liu, Cheng Wu, Chak K. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Light-absorbing organic carbon (or brown carbon, BrC) in atmospheric particles has received much attention for its potential role in global radiative forcing. While a number of field measurement campaigns have differentiated light absorption by black carbon (BC) and BrC, the chemical characteristics of BrC are not well understood. In this study, we present co-located real-time light absorption and chemical composition measurements of atmospheric particles to explore the relationship between the chemical and optical characteristics of BrC at a suburban site downwind of Guangzhou, China, from November to December 2014. BrC and BC contributions to light absorption were estimated using measurements from a seven-wavelength aethalometer, while the chemical composition of non-refractory PM1 was measured with a high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS). Using the absorption Ångström exponent (AAE) method, we estimated that BrC contributed 23.6 % to the total aerosol absorption at 370 nm, 18.1 % at 470 nm, 10.7 % at 520 nm, 10.7 % at 590 nm, and 10.5 % at 660 nm. Biomass burning organic aerosol (BBOA) has the highest mass absorption coefficient among sources of organic aerosols. Its contribution to total brown carbon absorption coefficient decreased but that of low-volatility oxygenated organic aerosol (LVOOA) increased with increasing wavelength, suggesting the need for wavelength-dependent light absorption analysis for BrC in association with its chemical makeup. Clear correlations of N-containing ion fragments with absorption coefficient were observed. These correlations also depended on their degrees of unsaturation/cyclization and oxygenation. While the current study relates light absorption by BrC to ion fragments, more detailed chemical characterization is warranted to constrain this relationship.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16409-16418
Number of pages10
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 19 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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