Evaluation of aerosol- and gas-phase tracers for identification of transported biomass burning emissions in an industrially influenced location in Texas, USA

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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

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As criteria pollutants from anthropogenic emissions have declined in the US in the last 2 decades, biomass burning (BB) emissions are becoming more important for urban air quality. Tracking the transported BB emissions and their impacts is challenging, especially in areas that are also burdened by anthropogenic sources like the Texas Gulf Coast. During the Corpus Christi and San Antonio (CCSA) field campaign in spring 2021, two long-range-transport BB events (BB1 and BB2) were identified. The observed patterns of an absorption Ångström exponent (AAE), a high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS) BB tracer (f60), equivalent black carbon (eBC), acetonitrile and carbon monoxide (CO) during BB1 and BB2 indicated differences in the mixing of transported BB plumes with local anthropogenic sources. The combined information from HYSPLIT backward-trajectory (BT) and satellite observations revealed that BB1 had mixed influence of transported smoke plumes from fires in central Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula and the central US, whereas BB2 was influenced by fires in the central US. The estimated transport times of smoke from the Mexican fires and the central US fires to our study site were not too different (48-54 and 24-36h, respectively), and both events appeared to have undergone similar levels of atmospheric processing, as evident in the elemental ratios of bulk organic aerosol (OA). We observed an aging trend for f44 vs. f60 and f44 vs. f43 as a function of time during BB2 but not during BB1. Positive matrix factorization (PMF) analysis of OA showed that BB1 had a mixture of organics from aged BB emissions with an anthropogenic marine signal, while the oxidized organic compounds from aged BB emissions dominated the aerosols during BB2. The size distribution of aerosol composition revealed distinct characteristics between BB1 and BB2, where BB1 was found to be externally mixed, exhibiting a combination of BB and anthropogenic marine aerosols. On the other hand, BB2 exhibited internal mixing dominated by aged BB aerosol. Our analysis from mobile and stationary measurements highlights that both CO and acetonitrile are likely impacted by local sources even during the BB events and specifically that acetonitrile cannot be used as a unique BB tracer for dilute BB plumes in an industrially influenced location. A suitable volatile organic compound (VOC) tracer would need to be emitted in high concentrations during BB, resistant to degradation during transport, unique to BB and able to be measured in the field. This study effectively demonstrates that AAE and aerosol BB tracers served as precise and effective tracers in these complex emission scenarios. Network deployment of multiwavelength photometers holds promise for enhancing our understanding of BB impacts on air quality and supporting informed decision-making for effective mitigation strategies in locations with mixed sources and influence of dilute BB plumes. To demonstrate the relevance of such an aerosol optical network, we provide evidence of the potential regional impacts of these transported BB events on urban O3 levels using measurements from the surface air quality monitoring network in Texas.





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