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Temporal and source assessments of organic and elemental carbon at sites in the northern South African interior

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Particulate matter (PM) can affect climate, air quality, human health, acid deposition and visibility, and contain a significant fraction of organic (OC) and elemental carbon (EC). Southern Africa is an important source region for OC and EC, however, little OC and EC data have been published for this region. This paper presents a multi-year, multi-site (an urban-industrial site in the Vaal Triangle, UI-VT; an industrially influenced site at Amerfoort, iI-AF; and two regional background sites at Skukuza and Louis Trichardt, RR-SK and RR-LT) PM with an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5) OC and EC dataset for South Africa. The median OC (9.3) and EC (3.2 μg.m−3) concentrations at UI-VT were 1.3 to 2.5 and 2.7 to 4.4 times higher, if compared to the other sites. OC/EC ratios indicated that sources in close proximity to UI-VT were likely the main contributors, while sources that are more distant contributed fractionally more at the other sites. Household combustion for space heating and regional open biomass burning contributed to elevated levels during the cold and dry months at UI-VT. Regional open biomass burning also lead to higher OC and EC concentrations during the dry season at the industrially influenced site (iI-AF) and one of the regional background sites (RR-SK). From the seasonal concentration patterns, it seemed as if household combustion for space heating also contributed at these two sites during the cold months, but this could not be proven, even if only samples with limited influence of open biomass burning were considered. Such biomass burning influences were semi-quantified by considering MODIS fire pixels occurring within the air mass fetch region for each sample. For the remaining regional background site (RR-LT) the results suggesed that only regional open biomass burning contributed to elevated levels of OC and EC in the dry season and that household combustion for space heating did not contribute significantly.

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The authors acknowledge Sasol and Eskom for financial support to the South African Deposition of Biogeochemical Important Trace Species - International Network to study Deposition and Atmospheric chemistry in Africa (DEBITS-INDAAF) project, as well as the Atmospheric Research in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean (GDRI-ARSAIO) project for providing financial support to scientists from France and South Africa. DEBITS is also endorsed by the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC) programme and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The authors would like to thank Mrs. Carin van der Merwe who visited the measurement sites monthly. The financial assistance of the National Research Foundation (NRF) towards this research is hereby also acknowledged. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at, are those of the author and are not necessarily to be attributed to the NRF.

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Correspondence to Johan P. Beukes.

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Maritz, P., Beukes, J.P., van Zyl, P.G. et al. Temporal and source assessments of organic and elemental carbon at sites in the northern South African interior. J Atmos Chem (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10874-020-09398-2

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  • Elemental carbon (EC)
  • Organic carbon (OC)
  • Open biomass burning
  • Household combustion
  • Deposition of Biogeochemical Important Trace Species (DEBITS)