Fossil and contemporary fine particulate carbon fractions at 12 rural and urban sites in the United States

Bret A. Schichtel*, William C. Malm, Graham Bench, Stewart Fallon, Charles E. McDade, Judith C. Chow, John G. Watson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Citations (Scopus)


Fine particulate matter collected at two urban, four near-urban, and six remote sites throughout the United States were analyzed for total carbon (TC) and radiocarbon (14C). Samples were collected at most sites for both a summer and winter season. The radiocarbon was used to partition the TC into fossil and contemporary fractions. On average, contemporary carbon composed about half of the carbon at the urban, ∼70-97% at near-urban, and 82-100% at remote sites. At Phoenix, Arizona, and Seattle, Washington, one monitor was located within the urban center and one outside to assess the urban excess over background concentrations. During the summer the urban and rural sites had similar contemporary carbon concentrations. However, during the winter the urban sites had more than twice the contemporary carbon measured at the neighboring sites, indicating anthropogenic contributions to the contemporary carbon. The urban fossil carbon was 4-20 times larger than the neighboring rural sites for both seasons. Organic (OC) and elemental carbon (EC) from TOR analysis were available. These and the radiocarbon data were used to estimate characteristic fossil and contemporary EC/TC ratios for the winter and summer seasons. These ratios were applied to carbon data from the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments network to estimate the fraction of contemporary carbon at mostly rural sites throughout the United States. In addition, the ratios were used to develop a semiquantitative, lower bound estimate of secondary organic carbon (SOC) contribution to fossil and contemporary carbon. SOC accounted for more than one-third of the fossil and contemporary carbon.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberD02311
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


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