Signatures of Biomass Burning Aerosols during a Smoke Plume Event from a Saltmarsh Wildfire in South Texas
Friday, 19 December 2014
The most conventional and abundant tracers of biomass combustion in aerosol particles include potassium and biomarkers derived from thermally altered cellulose/hemicellulose (anhydrosugars) and lignin (methoxyphenols). However, little is known of the role of biomass combustion as a particulate source of major plant polymers to the atmosphere. Here, concentrations of “free” (solvent-extractable) anhydrosugars and methoxyphenols are compared to the yields of polymeric lignin oxidation products (LOPs) during a smoke plume event in Houston, Texas. Downwind aerosol samples (PM2.5) were collected prior to, during, and following a two-day wildfire event that burned ~5,000 acres of a spartina saltmarsh ecosystem in the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, 125 km southeast of Houston. In addition, charcoals of the burned plants were collected within a week of the fire at the wildfire site. HYSPLIT modeling shows that Houston was directly downwind of this wildfire during the peak of the burn, with an approximate travel time from source to aerosol sampling site of 12-16 hrs. Concentrations of all organic markers, K+, and Ca2+ jumped by a factor of 2-13 within 1-2 days of the start of the fire and dropped to pre-fire levels three days after the peak event. Source signatures of anhydrosugars and free methoxyphenols during the peak of the plume were identical to those of grass charcoals collected from the site, confirming the potential use of charcoals as endmembers for source input reconstruction during atmospheric transport. An enrichment factor of 20 in the anhydrosugar to methoxyphenol ratio of aerosols vs. charcoals can partially be explained by differences in degradation rate constants between the two biomarker groups. Polymeric LOP comprised 73-91% of all lignin material in the aerosols, pointing to fires as major sources of primary biogenic aerosol particles and confirming an earlier study that lignin phenols in atmospheric particles occur predominantly in polymeric form.