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Wildfires contribute significantly to global soot emissions, yet their aerosol formation mechanisms and resulting particle properties are poorly understood and parameterized in climate models. The conventional view holds that soot is formed via the cluster-dilute aggregation mechanism in wildfires and emitted as aggregates with fractal dimension Df < 1.8 mobility diameter Dm # 1 mm, and aerodynamic diameter Da# 300 nm. Here we report the ubiquitous presence of soot superaggregates (SAs) in the outflow from a major wildfire in India. SAs are porous, low-density aggregates of cluster-dilute aggregates with characteristic Df< 2.6, Dm . 1 mm, and Da# 300 nm that form via the cluster-dense aggregation mechanism. We present additional observations of soot SAs in wildfire smoke-laden air masses over Northern California, New Mexico, and Mexico City. We estimate that SAs contribute, per unit optical depth, up to 35% less atmospheric warming than freshly-emitted (Df < 1.8) aggregates, and <90% more warming than the volume-equivalent spherical soot particles simulated in climate models.
Chakrabarty, R. K., N. D. Beres, H. Moosmuller, S. China, C. Mazzoleni, M. K. Dubey, L. Liu, & M. I. Mishchenko (2014) Soot superaggregates from flaming wildfires and their direct radiative forcing, Nature Scientific Reports 4:5508.