Brown carbon aerosols in the Indo-Gangetic Plain outflow: insights from excitation emission matrix (EEM) fluorescence spectroscopy†
We report the first characterization of the aerosol brown carbon (BrC) composition in the Indian context using excitation emission matrix (EEM) fluorescence spectroscopy coupled with parallel factor (PARAFAC) analysis. We find that biomass burning (BB)-dominated wintertime aerosols in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) outflow are characterized by two humic-like (HULIS) (C1_aq and C2_aq) and one protein-like/fossil fuel-derived (C3_aq) component for aqueous-extractable BrC (BrCaq), and by one humic-like (C1_me) and one protein-like (C2_me) component for methanol-extractable BrC (BrCme). Strong correlations of the BB tracer nss-K+ with C1_aq and C2_aq (r = 0.75–0.84, p < 0.01) and C1_me (r = 0.77, p < 0.01) point towards the BB-dominated IGP outflow as the major source. This is also supported by the analysis of fluorescence indices, which suggest extensive humification of BB emissions during atmospheric transport. The HULIS components correlate significantly with BrC absorption (r = 0.85–0.94, p < 0.01), and contribute substantially to the BrC relative radiative forcing of 13–24% vis-à-vis elemental carbon (EC). There is strong evidence that the abundant BB-derived NOX leads to NO3− formation in the IGP plume and drives the formation of water-soluble nitroaromatics (NACs) that constrain BrCaq light absorption (r = 0.56, p < 0.01) to a considerable degree. Overall, the study uncovers complex atmospheric processing of the IGP outflow in winter, which has important implications for regional climate.