Trace gas and particulate emissions from the 2003 southern California wildfires

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Volume 112, Issue D3, p.D03307 (2007)





Aerosols and particles, Biomass burning, Biosphere/atmosphere interactions, Carbon cycling, Impacts of global change, particle, Trace gases, Troposphere: composition and chemistry


In October 2003, thirteen major wildfires in southern California burned more than 300,000 hectares of mainly chaparral biome. High-precision in situ trace gas and particle measurements of the wildfire plumes in La Jolla, California, showed a high degree of correlation among carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nonmethane hydrocarbons, and methyl halide mixing ratios, as well as with particle number concentrations (10–300 nm and 500–2500 nm aerodynamic diameter). Aerosol time-of-flight mass spectrometry of individual aerosol particles (50–2500 nm range) showed that 70–85% had typical biomass burning signatures (levoglucosan coupled with potassium). Only 5–18% of particles in the 50–300 nm range had vehicle signatures. Molar trace gas enhancement ratios (ERs) versus ethane and CO2 were calculated and showed a narrow age distribution, consistent with the short distance from the wildfires. ERs for N2O and CH3CCl3 versus CO2 were determined, but correlations were poor. No significant CH2Cl2 or CHCl3 emissions were detected. CO2 emissions from the nearby Cedar fire were estimated both with a simple Lagrangian atmospheric transport model and a burned area approach and extrapolated to 11 Tg CO2 for the total burned area in southern California. Total CO2, CH4, C2-hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, methyl chloride, methyl iodide, and PM2.5 emissions were ∼0.2–3.5% of yearly global extratropical forest fire emissions and more than 28% of CH4, C6H6, and PM2.5 2003 San Diego and South Coast Air Basins anthropogenic emissions. Particle distributions and single particle chemistry are discussed. PM2.5 considerably exceeded the EPA short-term exposure limit.