Pollution aerosol across Northern Europe: Assessing properties, processes and effects on regional climate

  • William Morgan

Student thesis: Phd


Atmospheric aerosols are the major component in the shorter-term variability governing the radiative balance of the climate system, particularly on regional scales. However, knowledge of the myriad of properties and processes associated with aerosols is often limited, which results in major uncertainties when assessing their climate effects. One such aspect is the chemical make-up of the atmospheric aerosol burden.Airborne measurements of aerosol properties across Northern Europe are presented here in order to facilitate constraint of the properties, processes and effects of aerosols in this highly populated and industrialised region. An Aerodyne Aerosol Mass Spectrometer (AMS) delivered highly time-resolved measurements of aerosol chemical components, which included organic matter, sulphate, nitrate and ammonium.The chemical composition of the aerosol burden was strongly determined by the dominant meteorological conditions in Northern Europe. Pollution loadings in North- Western Europe were strongly enhanced when air masses originated from Continental Europe. Conversely, much cleaner conditions were associated with air masses from the Atlantic Ocean.Organic matter was found to be ubiquitous across Northern Europe and predominantly secondary in nature, which is consistent with other analyses in polluted regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Furthermore, its concentration was generally comparable to, or exceeded that of, sulphate. Significant chemical processing of the organic aerosol component was observed. Highly oxidised secondary organic aerosol dominated, as the distance from source and photochemical processing increased.Ammonium nitrate was found to be a major component of the aerosol burden in Northern Europe, with peak contributions occurring in North-Western Europe, due to the co-location of its emission precursors (NH3 and NOx) in the region. Ammonium nitrate was found to be the dominant sub-micron chemical constituent during periods associated with enhanced pollution episodes. Its concentration was shown to be modulated by the thermodynamic structure of the lower troposphere, with enhanced concentrations prevalent at the top of the boundary layer. This phenomenon greatly enhanced the radiative impact of the aerosol burden; the increased mass and water uptake by the aerosol significantly amplified the aerosol optical depth in the region.The results presented in this thesis highlight a highly dynamic region, where major changes in emissions have played a significant role in determining the chemical composition of the aerosol burden. As substantial reductions in sulphur dioxide emissions have occurred over the past two decades in Northern Europe, the relative contribution of sulphate aerosols to the regional aerosol burden has decreased. Consequently, it is more pertinent to consider the roles of organic matter and ammonium nitrate, as their influence becomes more pronounced than sulphate on regional and global climate.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHugh Coe (Supervisor), Martin Gallagher (Supervisor) & James Allan (Supervisor)


  • Aerosol chemical composition
  • Climate change
  • Regional air quality
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Secondary organic aerosol

Cite this