National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

Spectral dependence of visible light absorption by carbonaceous particles emitted from coal combustion

Bond, T.C.

Geophys. Res. Lett., 28(21), 4075–4078, doi: 10.1029/2001GL013652 (2001)

Optical characteristics of particles that absorb visible light are needed to model their effects on atmospheric radiation. Light absorption by particles emitted from low-technology coal combustion has exhibited a strong spectral dependence. I investigate various explanations for this phenomenon and conclude that a spectrally dependent imaginary refractive index is the most plausible. Following previous work on the structure of amorphous carbon, I propose that both the magnitude and spectral dependence of light absorption are controlled by the size of graphitic clusters within the material, and can be described using the optical band-gap theory. This hypothesis is an alternative to the current measurement divisions of light-absorbing "black carbon" and non-absorbing "organic carbon," and offers an explanation for preferential absorption at blue wavelengths that may extend to ultraviolet wavelengths.

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