Formation and evolution of tar balls from northwestern US wildfires

Arthur J. Sedlacek, P R Buseck, Kouji Adachi, Timothy B. Onasch, Stephen R. Springston, Lawrence Kleinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Biomass burning is a major source of lightabsorbing black and brown carbonaceous particles. Tar balls (TBs) are a type of brown carbonaceous particle apparently unique to biomass burning. Here we describe the first atmospheric observations of the formation and evolution of TBs from forest fires. Aerosol particles were collected on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) grids during aircraft transects at various downwind distances from the Colockum Tarps wildland fire. TB mass fractions, derived from TEM and in situ measurements, increased from < 1% near the fire to 31-45% downwind, with little change in TB diameter. Given the observed evolution of TBs, it is recommended that these particles be labeled as processed primary particles, thereby distinguishing TB formation-evolution from secondary organic aerosols. Single-scattering albedo determined from scattering and absorption measurements increased slightly with downwind distance. Similar TEM and single-scattering albedo results were observed sampling multiple wildfires. Mie calculations are consistent with weak light absorbance by TBs (i.e., m similar to the literature values 1.56-0.02i or 1.80-0.007i) but not consistent with absorption 1 order of magnitude stronger observed in different settings. The field-derived TB mass fractions reported here indicate that this particle type should be accounted for in biomass burning emission inventories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11289-11301
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 13 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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