Modified Thermal-Optical Analysis Using Spectral Absorption Selectivity to Distinguish Black Carbon from Pyrolized Organic Carbon
This study presents a method for analyzing the black carbon (BC) mass loading on a quartz fiber filter using a modified thermal-optical analysis method, wherein light transmitted through the sample is measured over a spectral region instead of at a single wavelength. Evolution of the spectral light transmission signal depends on the relative amounts of light-absorbing BC and char, the latter of which forms when organic carbon in the sample pyrolyzes during heating. Absorption selectivities of BC and char are found to be distinct and are used to apportion the amount of light attenuated by each component in the sample. Light attenuation is converted to mass concentration on the basis of derived mass attenuation efficiencies (MAEs) of BC and char. The fractions of attenuation due to each component are scaled by their individual MAE values and added together as the total mass of light absorbing carbon (LAC). An iterative algorithm is used to find the MAE values for both BC and char that provide the best fit to the carbon mass remaining on the filter (derived from direct measurements of thermally evolved CO2) at temperatures higher than 480 °C. This method was applied to measure the BC concentration in precipitation samples collected in northern California. The uncertainty in the measured BC concentration of samples that contained a high concentration of organics susceptible to char ranged from 12% to 100%, depending on the mass loading of BC on the filter. The lower detection limit for this method was approximately 0.35 microg of BC, and the uncertainty approached 20% for BC mass loading greater than 1.0 microg of BC.