Light absorption by brown carbon over the South-East Atlantic Ocean

Lu Zhang*, Michal Segal-Rozenhaimer, Haochi Che, Caroline Dang, Arthur J. Sedlacek, Ernie R. Lewis, Amie Dobracki, Jenny P.S. Wong, Paola Formenti, Steven G. Howell, Athanasios Nenes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Biomass burning emissions often contain brown carbon (BrC), which represents a large family of light-absorbing organics that are chemically complex, thus making it difficult to estimate their absorption of incoming solar radiation, resulting in large uncertainties in the estimation of the global direct radiative effect of aerosols. Here we investigate the contribution of BrC to the total light absorption of biomass burning aerosols over the South-East Atlantic Ocean with different optical models, utilizing a suite of airborne measurements from the ORACLES 2018 campaign. An effective refractive index of black carbon (BC), meBCCombining double low line1.95+ikeBC, that characterizes the absorptivity of all absorbing components at 660nm wavelength was introduced to facilitate the attribution of absorption at shorter wavelengths, i.e. 470nm. Most values of the imaginary part of the effective refractive index, keBC, were larger than those commonly used for BC from biomass burning emissions, suggesting contributions from absorbers besides BC at 660nm. The TEM-EDX single-particle analysis further suggests that these long-wavelength absorbers might include iron oxides, as iron is found to be present only when large values of keBC are derived. Using this effective BC refractive index, we find that the contribution of BrC to the total absorption at 470nm (RBrC,470) ranges from 1/48%-22%, with the organic aerosol mass absorption coefficient (MACOA,470) at this wavelength ranging from 0.30±0.27 to 0.68±0.08m2g-1. The core-shell model yielded much higher estimates of MACOA,470 and RBrC,470 than homogeneous mixing models, underscoring the importance of model treatment. Absorption attribution using the Bruggeman mixing Mie model suggests a minor BrC contribution of 4% at 530nm, while its removal would triple the BrC contribution to the total absorption at 470nm obtained using the AAE (absorption Ångström exponent) attribution method. Thus, it is recommended that the application of any optical properties-based attribution method use absorption coefficients at the longest possible wavelength to minimize the influence of BrC and to account for potential contributions from other absorbing materials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9199-9213
Number of pages15
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number14
StatePublished - 18 Jul 2022


FundersFunder number
French National Agency for Space Studies
Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy
RadiatiOn and CLOuds
U.S. Department of EnergyDE-SC0020084
U.S. Department of Energy
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office of ScienceDE-SC0012704
Office of Science
Seventh Framework Programme312609
Seventh Framework Programme
National Research Foundation
Agence Nationale de la RechercheANR-15-CE01-0014-01
Agence Nationale de la Recherche
Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales
National Research Foundation of KoreaUID 105958
National Research Foundation of Korea
Tel Aviv University


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