The effect of BC on aerosol-boundary layer feedback: potential implications for urban pollution episodes

J Slater, H Coe, G McFiggans, J Tonttila, S Romakkaniemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Beijing suffers from poor air quality, particularly during wintertime haze episodes when concentrations of PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter < 2.5 μm) can peak at > 400 μg m-3. Black carbon (BC), an aerosol which strongly absorbs solar radiation, can make up to 10 % of PM2.5 in Beijing. BC is of interest due to its climatic and health impacts. BC has also been found to impact planetary boundary layer (PBL) meteorology. Through interacting with radiation and altering the thermal profile of the lower atmosphere, BC can either suppress or enhance PBL development depending on the properties and altitude of the BC layer. Previous research assessing the impact of BC on PBL meteorology has been investigated through the use of regional models, which are limited both by resolution and the chosen boundary layer schemes. In this work, we apply a high-resolution model (UCLALES-SALSA) that couples an aerosol and radiative transfer model with large-eddy simulation (LES) to quantify the impact of BC at different altitudes on PBL dynamics using conditions from a specific haze episode which occurred from 1-4 December 2016 in Beijing. Results presented in this paper quantify the heating rate of BC at various altitudes to be between 0.01 and 0.016 K/h per μg/m3 of BC, increasing with altitude but decreasing around PBL top. Through utilising a high-resolution model which explicitly calculates turbulent dynamics, this paper showcases the impact of BC on PBL dynamics both within and above the PBL. These results show that BC within the PBL increases maximum PBL height by 0.4 % but that the same loading of BC above the PBL can suppress PBL height by 6.5 %. Furthermore, when BC is present throughout the column, the impact of BC suppressing PBL development is further maximised, with BC causing a 17 % decrease in maximum PBL height compared to only scattering aerosols. Assessing the impact of these opposite effects, in this paper, we present a mechanism through which BC may play a prominent role in the intensity and longevity of Beijing's pollution episodes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2937-2953
Number of pages17
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2022


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