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Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Aug 20;47(16):9102-8. doi: 10.1021/es401599r. Epub 2013 Aug 8.

Source forensics of black carbon aerosols from China.

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  • 1Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xiamen 361021, China.


The limited understanding of black carbon (BC) aerosol emissions from incomplete combustion causes a poorly constrained anthropogenic climate warming that globally may be second only to CO2 and regionally, such as over East Asia, the dominant driver of climate change. The relative contribution to atmospheric BC from fossil fuel versus biomass combustion is important to constrain as fossil BC is a stronger climate forcer. The source apportionment is the underpinning for targeted mitigation actions. However, technology-based "bottom-up" emission inventories are inconclusive, largely due to uncertain BC emission factors from small-scale/household combustion and open burning. We use "top-down" radiocarbon measurements of atmospheric BC from five sites including three city sites and two regional sites to determine that fossil fuel combustion produces 80 ± 6% of the BC emitted from China. This source-diagnostic radiocarbon signal in the ambient aerosol over East Asia establishes a much larger role for fossil fuel combustion than suggested by all 15 BC emission inventory models, including one with monthly resolution. Our results suggest that current climate modeling should refine both BC emission strength and consider the stronger radiative absorption associated with fossil-fuel-derived BC. To mitigate near-term climate effects and improve air quality in East Asia, activities such as residential coal combustion and city traffic should be targeted.

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