1Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM), Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
2Universidad de Los Andes, Merida 5101, Venezuela
3Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research (ASF), 76344 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany
4Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS), 04318 Leipzig, Germany
5Division of Atmospheric Sciences Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
*now at: NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research, P.O. Box 100, 2027 Kjeller, Norway
Abstract. First long-term observations of South American biomass burning aerosol within the tropical lower free troposphere are presented. The observations were conducted between 2007 and 2009 at a high altitude station (4765 m a.s.l.) on the Pico Espejo, Venezuela. Sub-micron particle volume, number concentrations of primary particles and particle absorption were observed. Orographic lifting and shallow convection leads to a distinct diurnal cycle at the station. It enables measurements within the lower free troposphere during night-time and observations of boundary layer air masses during daytime and at their transitional regions. The seasonal cycle is defined by a wet rainy season and a dry biomass burning season. The particle load of biomass burning aerosol is dominated by fires in the Venezuelan savannah. Increases of aerosol concentrations could not be linked to long-range transport of biomass burning plumes from the Amazon basin or Africa due to effective wet scavenging of particles. Highest particle concentrations were observed within boundary layer air masses during the dry season. Ambient sub-micron particle volume reached 1.4±1.3 μm3 cm−3, refractory particle number concentrations (at 300 °C) 510±420 cm−3 and the absorption coefficient 0.91±1.2 Mm−1. The respective concentrations were lowest within the lower free troposphere during the wet season and averaged at 0.19±0.25 μm3 cm−3, 150±94 cm−3 and 0.15±0.26 Mm−1. A decrease of particle concentrations during the dry seasons from 2007–2009 could be connected to a decrease in fire activity in the wider region of Venezuela using MODIS satellite observations. The variability of biomass burning is most likely linked to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Low biomass burning activity in the Venezuelan savannah was observed to follow La Niña conditions, high biomass burning activity followed El Niño conditions.