The impact of biogenic, anthropogenic, and biomass burning volatile organic compound emissions on regional and seasonal variations in secondary organic aerosol

Jamie M. Kelly*, Ruth M. Doherty, Fiona M. O'Connor, Graham W. Mann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The global secondary organic aerosol (SOA) budget is highly uncertain, with global annual SOA production rates, estimated from global models, ranging over an order of magnitude and simulated SOA concentrations underestimated compared to observations. In this study, we use a global composition-climate model (UKCA) with interactive chemistry and aerosol microphysics to provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of each VOC source on the global SOA budget and its seasonality. We further quantify the role of each source on SOA spatial distributions, and evaluate simulated seasonal SOA concentrations against a comprehensive set of observations. The annual global SOA production rates from monoterpene, isoprene, biomass burning, and anthropogenic precursor sources is 19.9, 19.6, 9.5, and 24.6Tg (SOA) a-1, respectively. When all sources are included, the SOA production rate from all sources is 73.6Tg (SOA) a-1, which lies within the range of estimates from previous modelling studies. SOA production rates and SOA burdens from biogenic and biomass burning SOA sources peak during Northern Hemisphere (NH) summer. In contrast, the anthropogenic SOA production rate is fairly constant all year round. However, the global anthropogenic SOA burden does have a seasonal cycle which is lowest during NH summer, which is probably due to enhanced wet removal. Inclusion of the new SOA sources also accelerates the ageing by condensation of primary organic aerosol (POA), making it more hydrophilic, leading to a reduction in the POA lifetime. With monoterpene as the only source of SOA, simulated SOA and total organic aerosol (OA) concentrations are underestimated by the model when compared to surface and aircraft measurements. Model agreement with observations improves with all new sources added, primarily due to the inclusion of the anthropogenic source of SOA, although a negative bias remains. A further sensitivity simulation was performed with an increased anthropogenic SOA reaction yield, corresponding to an annual global SOA production rate of 70.0Tg (SOA) a-1. Whilst simulated SOA concentrations improved relative to observations, they were still underestimated in urban environments and overestimated further downwind and in remote environments. In contrast, the inclusion of SOA from isoprene and biomass burning did not improve model-observations biases substantially except at one out of two tropical locations. However, these findings may reflect the very limited availability of observations to evaluate the model, which are primarily located in the NH mid-latitudes where anthropogenic emissions are high. Our results highlight that, within the current uncertainty limits in SOA sources and reaction yields, over the NH mid-latitudes, a large anthropogenic SOA source results in good agreement with observations. However, more observations are needed to establish the importance of biomass burning and biogenic sources of SOA in model agreement with observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7393-7422
Number of pages30
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2018


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