Properties and evolution of biomass burning organic aerosol from Canadian boreal forest fires

M. D. Jolleys, H. Coe, G. McFiggans, J. W. Taylor, S. J. O'Shea, M. Le Breton, S. J B Bauguitte, S. Moller, P. Di Carlo, E. Aruffo, P. I. Palmer, J. D. Lee, Carl Percival, M. W. Gallagher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Airborne measurements of biomass burning organic aerosol (BBOA) from boreal forest fires reveal highly contrasting properties for plumes of different ages. These measurements, performed using an Aerodyne Research Inc. compact time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (C-ToF-AMS) during the BORTAS (quantifying the impact of BOReal forest fires on Tropospheric oxidants over the Atlantic using Aircraft and Satellites) experiment in the summer of 2011, have been used to derive normalised excess organic aerosol (OA) mass concentrations (ΔOA/ΔCO), with higher average ratios observed closer to source (0.190±0.010) than in the far-field (0.097±0.002). The difference in ΔOA/ΔCO between fresh and aged plumes is influenced by a change in dominant combustion conditions throughout the campaign. Measurements at source comprised 3 plume interceptions during a single research flight and sampled largely smouldering fires. Twenty-three interceptions were made across four flights in the far-field, with plumes originating from fires occurring earlier in the campaign when fire activity had been more intense, creating an underlying contrast in emissions prior to any transformations associated with aging. Changing combustion conditions also affect the vertical distribution of biomass burning emissions, as aged plumes from more flaming-dominated fires are injected to higher altitudes of up to 6000 m. Proportional contributions of the mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) 60 and 44 peaks in the AMS mass spectra to the total OA mass (denoted f60 and f44) are used as tracers for primary and oxidised BBOA, respectively. f44 is lower on average in near-field plumes than those sampled in the far-field, in accordance with longer aging times as plumes are transported a greater distance from source. However, high levels of ΔO3/ΔCO and -log(NOx/NOy) close to source indicate that emissions can be subject to very rapid oxidation over short timescales. Conversely, the lofting of plumes into the upper troposphere can lead to the retention of source profiles after transportation over extensive temporal and spatial scales, with f60 also higher on average in aged plumes. Evolution of OA composition with aging is comparable to observations of BB tracers in previous studies, revealing a consistent progression from f60 to f44. The elevated levels of oxygenation in aged plumes, and their association with lower average ΔOA/ΔCO, are consistent with OA loss through evaporation during aging due to a combination of dilution and chemical processing, while differences in combustion conditions throughout the campaign also have a significant influence on BBOA production and composition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3077-3095
Number of pages19
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2015


  • aerosol
  • aerosol composition
  • atmospheric plume
  • biomass burning
  • boreal forest
  • combustion fire
  • oxidation
  • troposphere


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