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Potassium: A Tracer for Biomass Burning in Beijing?

Category: Aerosol and Atmospheric Chemistry

Accepted Manuscripts
DOI: 10.4209/aaqr.2017.11.0536
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Jinting Yu, Caiqing Yan, Yue Liu, Xiaoying Li, Tian Zhou, Mei Zheng

  • SKL-ESPC and BIC-ESAT, College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China


Major sources of K in Beijing (coal, biomass burning, and dust) are quantified.
Coal combustion is a major source of K (45–69%) especially during winter haze.
Biomass burning will be overestimated when using K as a sole tracer.


Potassium (K) is an important component of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and has been widely used as a tracer for biomass burning around the world. However, this may not be true in Beijing as the sources of K are much more complicated. This research aims to investigate if K can be applied as a sole tracer for biomass burning in Beijing. In 2015–2016 concentrations of K across the four seasons were measured by a Xact 625 monitor, which uses x-ray fluorescence, and K+ for two seasons by an In-situ Gas and Aerosol Composition (IGAC), which employs ion chromatography. It was found that the ratios of K/K+ and K+/PM2.5 were close to that of coal combustion, and K exhibited good correlations with trace metals associated with coal combustion (e.g., Pb, As, Se, Zn). The ratios of K/Pb during the peak of the haze episodes were very constant (around 15.70), suggesting the influence of a major, but consistent source. Therefore, it was clear that coal combustion was one of the major sources of K in Beijing. To estimate major source contributions to K, the ratios of K/Ca and K/Pb were used to represent dust and coal combustion, respectively. From this study, coal combustion was the major source of K (45–69%), followed by biomass burning and dust. However, a seasonality was observed, with the highest source contribution from coal combustion in winter (69%), biomass burning in autumn (49%), and dust in spring (19%). This research shows that biomass burning would be overestimated in Beijing when using K as a sole tracer since coal is also a major source of K.


K Tracer Source Biomass burning Coal combustion

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