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Black-carbon absorption enhancement in the atmosphere determined by particle mixing state

Abstract

Atmospheric black carbon makes an important but poorly quantified contribution to the warming of the global atmosphere. Laboratory and modelling studies have shown that the addition of non-black-carbon materials to black-carbon particles may enhance the particles’ light absorption by 50 to 60% by refracting and reflecting light. Real-world experimental evidence for this ‘lensing’ effect is scant and conflicting, showing that absorption enhancements can be less than 5% or as large as 140%. Here we present simultaneous quantifications of the composition and optical properties of individual atmospheric black-carbon particles. We show that particles with a mass ratio of non-black carbon to black carbon of less than 1.5, which is typical of fresh traffic sources, are best represented as having no absorption enhancement. In contrast, black-carbon particles with a ratio greater than 3, which is typical of biomass-burning emissions, are best described assuming optical lensing leading to an absorption enhancement. We introduce a generalized hybrid model approach for estimating scattering and absorption enhancements based on laboratory and atmospheric observations. We conclude that the occurrence of the absorption enhancement of black-carbon particles is determined by the particles’ mass ratio of non-black carbon to black carbon.

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Figure 1: Measured and modelled optical properties as a function of mass ratio.
Figure 2: BC optical properties and mass ratios from a wide range of sources.
Figure 3: Annually averaged global distributions of MR at the surface for insoluble and soluble Aitken mode aerosol modelled using GLOMAP.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported through the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through the Com-Part (grant ref: NE/K014838/1), ClearfLo (grant ref: NE/H003150/1), MC4 (grant ref: NE/H008136/1), SAMBBA (grant refs: NE/J010073/1; NE/J009822/1), GASSP (grant refs: NE/J023515/1; NE/J024252/1) projects and a PhD studentships for S.H. (grant ref: NE/L002469/1) and J.W.T. The studentship of E.R.-V. was supported by the National Council of Science and Technology—Mexico (CONACyT; registry no: 217687). The Manchester chamber has received funding from the European Union’s Framework 7 EUROCHAMP2 Network and currently from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme through the EUROCHAMP-2020 Infrastructure Activity under grant agreement no. 730997.

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Contributions

J.D.A., D.L., M.R.A. and G.M. designed the research; J.D.A., D.L., J.W., M.R.A., E.R.-V., S.K., J.W.T., P.I.W., Y.-C.T., M.J.F. and S.H. performed experiments; D.L., E.R.-V., J.W.T. and W.T.M. performed data analysis; D.V.S and C.L.R. performed model simulation; D.L., J.D.A., H.C., G.M. and E.R.-V. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Dantong Liu or James D. Allan.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Liu, D., Whitehead, J., Alfarra, M. et al. Black-carbon absorption enhancement in the atmosphere determined by particle mixing state. Nature Geosci 10, 184–188 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2901

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