Abstract

Brown carbon (BrC) consists of those organic compounds in atmospheric aerosols that absorb solar radiation and may play an important role in planetary radiative forcing and climate. However, little is known about the production and loss mechanisms of BrC in the atmosphere. Here, we study how the light absorptivity of BrC from wood smoke and secondary BrC generated from the reaction of ammonium sulfate with methylglyoxal changes under photolytic aging by UVA radiation in the aqueous phase. Owing to its chemical complexity, BrC is separated by molecular weight using size exclusion chromatography, and the response of each molecular weight fraction to aging is studied. Photolytic aging induced significant changes in the light absorptivity of BrC for all molecular weight fractions; secondary BrC was rapidly photoblenched, whereas for wood smoke BrC, both photoenhancement and photobleaching were observed. Initially, large biomass burning BrC molecules were rapidly photoenhanced, followed by slow photolysis. As a result, large BrC molecules dominated the total light absorption of aged biomass burning BrC. These experimental results further support earlier observations that large molecular weight BrC compounds from biomass burning can be relatively long-lived components in atmospheric aerosols, thus more likely to have larger impacts on aerosol radiative forcing and could serve as biomass burning tracers. © 2017 American Chemical Society.

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