Volume changes upon heating of aerosol particles from biomass burning using transmission electron microscopy

Kouji Adachi, Arthur J. Sedlacek, Lawrence Kleinman, Duli Chand, John M. Hubbe, P R Buseck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The responses of aerosol particles to heating are important for measurements of their chemical, physical, and optical properties, classification, and determination of origin. However, the thermal behavior of organic aerosol particles is largely unknown. We provide a method to analyze such thermal behavior through heating from room temperature to >600°C by using a heating holder within a transmission electron microscope (TEM). Here we describe in-situ shape and size changes and variations in the compositions of individual particles before and after heating. We use ambient samples from wildland and agricultural biomass fires in North America collected during the 2013 Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP). The results indicate that individual tar balls (TB; spherical organic material) from biomass burning retained, on average, up to 30% of their volume when heated to 600°C. Chemical analysis reveals that K and Na remain in the residues, whereas S and O were lost. In contrast to bulk sample measurements of carbonaceous particles using thermal/optical carbon analyzers, our single-particle results imply that many individual organic particles consist of multiple types of organic matter having different thermal stabilities. Beyond TBs, our results suggest that because of their thermal stability some organic particles may not be detectable by using aerosol mass spectrometry or thermal/optical carbon analyzers. This result can lead to an underestimate of the abundance of TBs and other organic particles, and therefore biomass burning may have more influence than currently recognized in regional and global climate models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-56
Number of pages11
JournalAerosol Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Pollution


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