Nature and origin of Black Carbon in Ireland (BCIRE)
Black Carbon (BC) is a term used to describe soot particles produced from the burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass material. BC influences climate directly by absorbing solar radiation and then radiating energy to warm the atmosphere. Indeed, BC is now recognised as the second most important human-derived contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. Because the particles only remain in the atmosphere for a few days, BC emission controls represent the most likely means by which to mitigate climate change quickly and effectively. The reduction of BC emissions will also lower levels of fine particulate pollution in the atmosphere, thus providing a co-benefit for air quality. However, detailed knowledge of the properties and sources of BC particles is required to ensure that policy makers have a sound scientific basis for introducing effective legislation.
The aim of this project is to perform a comprehensive study of the nature and origin of BC particles in Ireland. Measurements of BC will be made using a state-of-the-art aethalometer at different urban locations in Ireland. This survey study will provide valuable information on the variability of BC across the country. A year-long continuous monitoring programme will also be performed in Dublin to determine the various sources of BC, such as road traffic and domestic solid fuel burning, and how these vary on a daily and seasonal timescale.
This project will be the first comprehensive study of BC in Ireland and will provide policy makers with the relevant scientific information to support development of effective strategies for reducing BC emissions.
This project is funded by a Government of Ireland Scholarship through the Irish Research Council and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Title: Nature and Origin of Black Carbon in Ireland
Fellow: Paul Buckley
Supervisor: Prof John Wenger
Grant Number: GOIPG/2015/3051
Start Date: 1st October 2015
Completion Date: 30th September 2019
Amount of Award: €96,000.00
Atmospheric aerosols can have a significant impact on climate, air quality and human health. The nature of these impacts is highly dependent on the chemical and physical properties of the aerosols, which in turn are largely determined by their sources and the extent of atmospheric processing (IPCC, 2013). In general, the main chemical components of atmospheric aerosol particles are; inorganic ions (sulfate, nitrate, ammonium), mineral dust, sea salt, organic carbon (OC) and elemental or black carbon (EC/BC). The relative abundance of these chemical species can vary significantly, depending on location, time of day, season and meteorological conditions (Pöschl, 2005).
Black Carbon (BC) is particularly important because it has strong and direct effects on climate and air quality. BC is a term used to describe a type of light-absorbing carbon containing particles formed through incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass (Bond et al., 2013). BC influences climate directly by absorbing solar radiation and then radiating energy to warm the atmosphere. The positive radiative forcing of BC is estimated to be the second most important human-derived contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide (Bond et al., 2013). Due to their relatively small size (at most a few hundred nm in diameter), BC particles exhibit atmospheric lifetimes on the order of several days. This is significantly shorter than the greenhouse gases, and BC is one of the most important “short-lived climate forcers” in the climate system (UNEP/WMO 2011). BC emission controls thus represent the most likely means by which to mitigate climate change quickly and effectively (Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008; UNEP/WMO, 2011). Reduction in BC emissions will also lower levels of fine particulate matter with diameters less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), thus improving air quality. However, improved scientific knowledge of the properties and sources of BC particles is required to provide policy makers with the relevant information to introduce effective legislation.
Paul Buckley, Dr Ian O’Connor, Dr Eoin McGillicuddy, Dr Stig Hellebust, Dr Jovanna Arndt, Prof John Wenger, Source Apportionment of Particulate Matter in Small Rural Towns, Poster presentation, Environ 2016, Limerick, Ireland, March 2016. Winner of Best Poster Prize
Paul Buckley, Dr Stig Hellebust, Dr Jovanna Arndt, Dr Eoin McGillicuddy, Dr Ian O’Connor, Prof John Wenger, Sources and Abundance of Black Carbon in Atmospheric Particles around Ireland, Air Quality and Urban Development Session, Environ 2017, Athlone, Ireland, April 2017. Winner of Best Air Quality and Urban Development Presentation
Paul Buckley, Dr Stig Hellebust, Dr Jovanna Arndt, Dr Ian O’Connor, Dr Eoin McGillicuddy, Eleonora Nicolosi, Dr Gary Fuller, Prof John Wenger, Black Carbon and Brown Carbon Aerosols in Ireland, Carbonaceous Aerosols Poster Session, European Aerosol Conference 2017, Zurich, Switzerland, August 2017. Winner of Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts Poster Prize
Characterization of primary organic aerosol from domestic wood, peat, and coal burning in Ireland, Chunshui Lin, Darius Ceburnis, Stig Hellebust, Paul Buckley, John Wenger, Francesco Canonaco, Andre S.H. Prevot, Ru-Jin Huang, Colin O'Dowd, and Jurgita Ovadnevaite, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, 2017. DOI
Publicity and Outreach
Black Carbon - The Dark Side of Radiative Forcing
Paul Buckley is a Postgraduate Scholar in the School of Chemistry and Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork. In 2015, Paul was awarded an Environmental Protection Agency Postgraduate Scholarship, allowing him to carry out his research project, entitled “Nature and Origin of Black Carbon in Ireland,” in the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry. His blog is part of our theme for the month of April, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
One of the best aspects about researching the topic of air quality is that everyone you meet has an opinion, and you can have a conversation with most people about it. The questions I get asked most frequently are “What is black carbon?”, “Where does it come from?”, and of course “How does it affect me?” Hopefully I can answer these questions for you here.
Black carbon (BC) is another name for soot, something we are all very used to seeing in fire places or on car exhausts. However, each individual soot particle is extremely small, invisible to our eyes. Even though they are miniscule, the large numbers of these particles combine to produce some extreme effects.
Firstly, BC is a major positive radiative forcing agent in our atmosphere. This, despite what the name may suggest, is not a good thing. In fact, it means that BC contributes in a big way to global warming. Today, BC particles are now recognised as the second most important positive forcing agent, behind the much more famous carbon dioxide.
Secondly, BC particles can also have some serious health effects. Do you know anyone with asthma or other respiratory problems? Well, BC particles are small enough to penetrate deep into our lungs and can exacerbate conditions like asthma upon exposure. Some BC particles are even small enough to enter the blood stream and be transported around the body. Depending on where they are dropped off they can do serious damage ranging from heart disease to interfering with organ functions.
With this in mind, it is clear that reducing BC concentrations will be beneficial for climate, air quality and human health. My work is focused on identifying the sources of BC in Ireland, with the aim of informing policy and shaping regulations in the future. My research is tied to two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects based on quantifying the contribution of domestic solid fuel burning to pollution in residential areas and also identifying seasonal variations in BC emissions.
These field measurements have shown that extremely high levels of BC occur in the evening during winter months in Irish towns outside of the smoky coal ban (Killarney, Enniscorthy, and Birr). Concentrations of up to 65 µg/m3 were observed for short periods, which are over 100 times the background level, observed on “unpolluted” days. In Enniscorthy, the daily average for black carbon in January was 3.99 µg/m3, twice the concentration observed in Paris during the same month. Importantly, our instruments show that the peaks in BC were due to burning of coal, peat and wood for home heating. Dublin shows higher background levels of BC due to traffic emissions, but a sizeable increase is observed in during winter months which is also attributed to solid fuel burning.
In conclusion, BC has a huge impact on the environment and on our health. My work shows that domestic solid fuel burning is the major source of this pollution and hopefully, the results will inform and help shape air quality legislation over the coming years.
This article was published on the Irish Research Council website in April 2017. Click Here to read it.