Photochemical degradation affects the light absorption of water-soluble brown carbon in the South Asian outflowDownload
Light-absorbing organic aerosols, known as brown carbon (BrC), counteract the overall cooling effect of aerosols on Earth’s climate. The spatial and temporal dynamics of their light-absorbing properties are poorly constrained and unaccounted for in climate models, because of limited ambient observations. We combine carbon isotope forensics (δ13C) with measurements of light absorption in a conceptual aging model to constrain the loss of light absorptivity (i.e., bleaching) of water-soluble BrC (WS-BrC) aerosols in one of the world’s largest BrC emission regions—South Asia. On this regional scale, we find that atmospheric photochemical oxidation reduces the light absorption of WS-BrC by ~84% during transport over 6000 km in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, with an ambient first-order bleaching rate of 0.20 ± 0.05 day−1 during over-ocean transit across Bay of Bengal to an Indian Ocean receptor site. This study facilitates dynamic parameterization of WS-BrC absorption properties, thereby constraining BrC climate impact over South Asia.