Individual aerosol particles from biomass burning in southern Africa: 1. Compositions and size distributions of carbonaceous particles

Mihály Pósfai, Renáta Simonics, Jia Li, Peter V. Hobbs, P R Buseck

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320 Scopus citations


Individual aerosol particles in smoke plumes from biomass fires and in regional hazes in southern Africa were studied using analytical transmission electron microscopy (TEM), which allowed detailed characterization of carbonaceous particle types in smoke and determination of changes in particle properties and concentrations during smoke aging. Based on composition, morphology, and microstructure, three distinct types of carbonaceous particles were present in the smoke: organic particles with inorganic (K-salt) inclusions, "tar ball" particles, and soot. The relative number concentrations of organic particles were largest in young smoke, whereas tar balls were dominant in a slightly aged (∼1 hour) smoke from a smoldering fire. Flaming fires emitted relatively more soot particles than smoldering fires, but soot was a minor constituent of all studied plumes. Further aging caused the accumulation of sulfate on organic and soot particles, as indicated by the large number of internally mixed organic/sulfate and soot/sulfate particles in the regional haze. Externally mixed ammonium sulfate particles dominated in the boundary layer hazes, whereas organic/sulfate particles were the most abundant type in the upper hazes. Apparently, elevated haze layers were more strongly affected by biomass smoke than those within the boundary layer. Based on size distributions and the observed patterns of internal mixing, we hypothesize that organic and soot particles are the cloud-nucleating constituents of biomass smoke aerosols. Sea-salt particles dominated in the samples taken in stratus clouds over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Namibia, whereas a distinct haze layer above the clouds consisted of aged biomass smoke particles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)SAF 19-1 - SAF 19-13
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2003


  • Biomass burning
  • Carbonaceous aerosol
  • Individual particles
  • TEM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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