Dilution and photooxidation driven processes explain the evolution of organic aerosol in wildfire plumes

Ali Akherati, Yicong He, Lauren A. Garofalo, Anna L. Hodshire, Delphine K. Farmer, Sonia M. Kreidenweis, Wade Permar, Lu Hu, Emily V. Fischer, Coty N. Jen, Allen H. Goldstein, Ezra J.T. Levin, Paul J. DeMott, Teresa L. Campos, Frank Flocke, John M. Reeves, Darin W. Toohey, Jeffrey R. Pierce, Shantanu H. Jathar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildfires are an important atmospheric source of primary organic aerosol (POA) and precursors for secondary organic aerosol (SOA) at regional and global scales. However, there are large uncertainties surrounding the emissions and physicochemical processes that control the transformation, evolution, and properties of POA and SOA in large wildfire plumes. We develop a plume version of a kinetic model to simulate the dilution, oxidation chemistry, thermodynamic properties, and microphysics of organic aerosol (OA) in wildfire smoke. The model is applied to study the in-plume OA in four large wildfire smoke plumes intercepted during an aircraft-based field campaign in summer 2018 in the western United States. Based on estimates of dilution and oxidant concentrations before the aircraft first intercepted the plumes, we simulate the OA evolution from very close to the fire to several hours downwind. Our model results and sensitivity simulations suggest that dilution-driven evaporation of POA and simultaneous photochemical production of SOA are likely to explain the observed evolution in OA mass with physical age. The model, however, substantially underestimates the change in the oxygen-to-carbon ratio of the OA compared to measurements. In addition, we show that the rapid chemical transformation within the first hour after emission is driven by higher-than-ambient OH concentrations (3 × 106-107 molecules per cm3) and the slower evolution over the next several hours is a result of lower-than-ambient OH concentrations (<106 molecules per cm3) and depleted SOA precursors. Model predictions indicate that the OA measured several hours downwind of the fire is still dominated by POA but with an SOA fraction that varies between 30% and 56% of the total OA. Semivolatile, heterocyclic, and oxygenated aromatic compounds, in that order, were found to contribute substantially (>90%) to SOA formation. Future work needs to focus on better understanding the dynamic evolution closer to the fire and resolving the rapid change in the oxidation state of OA with physical age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1000-1022
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental Science: Atmospheres
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 15 2022


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