Production of Secondary Organic Aerosol During Aging of Biomass Burning Smoke From Fresh Fuels and Its Relationship to VOC Precursors

A. T. Ahern, E. S. Robinson, D. S. Tkacik, R. Saleh, L. E. Hatch, K. C. Barsanti, C. E. Stockwell, R. J. Yokelson, A. A. Presto, A. L. Robinson, R. C. Sullivan, N. M. Donahue

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70 Scopus citations


After smoke from burning biomass is emitted into the atmosphere, chemical and physical processes change the composition and amount of organic aerosol present in the aged, diluted plume. During the fourth Fire Lab at Missoula Experiment, we performed smog-chamber experiments to investigate formation of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) and multiphase oxidation of primary organic aerosol (POA). We simulated atmospheric aging of diluted smoke from a variety of biomass fuels while measuring particle composition using high-resolution aerosol mass spectrometry. We quantified SOA formation using a tracer ion for low-volatility POA as a reference standard (akin to a naturally occurring internal standard). These smoke aging experiments revealed variable organic aerosol (OA) enhancements, even for smoke from similar fuels and aging mechanisms. This variable OA enhancement correlated well with measured differences in the amounts of emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could subsequently be oxidized to form SOA. For some aging experiments, we were able to predict the SOA production to within a factor of 2 using a fuel-specific VOC emission inventory that was scaled by burn-specific toluene measurements. For fires of coniferous fuels that were dominated by needle burning, volatile biogenic compounds were the dominant precursor class. For wiregrass fires, furans were the dominant SOA precursors. We used a POA tracer ion to calculate the amount of mass lost due to gas-phase oxidation and subsequent volatilization of semivolatile POA. Less than 5% of the POA mass was lost via multiphase oxidation-driven evaporation during up to 2 hr of equivalent atmospheric oxidation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3583-3606
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 27 2019


  • aerosol mass spectrometry
  • biomass burning
  • organic aerosol
  • secondary organic aerosol


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