Ambient black carbon particle hygroscopic properties controlled by mixing state and composition

Dantong Liu, James Allan, James Whitehead, Gordon Mcfiggans, Dominique Young, Michael Flynn, Hugh Coe, Z L Fleming, B Bandy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The wet removal of black carbon aerosol (BC) in the atmosphere is a crucial factor in determining its atmospheric lifetime and thereby the vertical and horizontal distributions, dispersion on local and regional scales, and the direct, semi-direct and indirect radiative forcing effects. The in-cloud scavenging and wet deposition rate of freshly emitted hydrophobic BC will be increased on acquisition of more-hydrophilic components by coagulation or coating processes. The lifetime of BC is still subject to considerable uncertainty for most of the model inputs, which is largely due to the insufficient constraints on the BC hydrophobic-to-hydrophilic conversion process from observational field data. This study was conducted at a site along UK North Norfolk coastline, where the BC particles were transported from different regions within Western Europe. A hygroscopicity tandem differential mobility analyser (HTDMA) was coupled with a single particle soot photometer (SP2) to measure the hygroscopic properties of BC particles and associated mixing state in real time. In addition, a Soot Particle AMS (SP-AMS) measured the chemical compositions of additional material associated with BC particles. The ensemble of BC particles persistently contained a less-hygroscopic mode at a growth factor (gf) of around 1.05 at 90% RH (dry diameter 163 nm). Importantly, a more-hygroscopic mode of BC particles was observed throughout the experiment, the gf of these BC particles extended up to similar to 1.4-1.6 with the minimum between this and the less hygroscopic mode at a gf similar to 1.25, or equivalent effective hygroscopicity parameter kappa similar to 0.1. The gf of BC particles (gf(BC)) was highly influenced by the composition of associated soluble material: increases of gfBC were associated with secondary inorganic components, and these increases were more pronounced when ammonium nitrate was in the BC particles; however the presence of secondary organic matter suppressed the gf(BC) below that of pure inorganics. The Zdanovskii-Stokes-Robinson (ZSR) mixing rule captures the hygroscopicity contributions from different compositions within +/- 30% compared to the measured results, however is subject to uncertainty due to the complex morphology of BC component and potential artefacts associated with semivolatile particles measured with the HTDMA. This study provides detailed insights on BC hygroscopicity associated with its mixing state, and the results will importantly constrain the microphysical mixing schemes of BC as used by a variety of high level models. In particular, this provides direct evidence to highlight the need to consider ammonium nitrate ageing of BC particles because this will result in particles becoming hydrophilic on much shorter timescales than for sulphate formation, which is often the only mechanism considered.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2015-2029
    Number of pages15
    JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • aerosol mass-spectrometer
    • cloud droplet activation
    • diesel soot particles
    • aging time-scales
    • chemical-composition
    • combustion particles
    • light-absorption
    • ccn activation
    • western-europe
    • sulfuric-acid


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