Zehra Y. Khan1, Joshua Kettler1, Haider A. Khwaja2,3, Iftikhar I. Naqvi4, Abdul Malik5, Elizabeth A. Stone 1

Department of Chemistry, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA
Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Albany, NY 12201, USA
Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany, Albany, NY 12222, USA
Chemistry Department, University of Karachi, Karachi-75270, Pakistan
H. E. J. Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi, Karachi-75270, Pakistan

Received: December 12, 2017
Revised: June 27, 2018
Accepted: July 7, 2018
Download Citation: ||https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2017.12.0579  

Cite this article:
Khan, Z.Y., Kettler, J., Khwaja, H.A., Naqvi, I.I., Malik, A. and Stone, E.A. (2018). Organic Aerosol Characterization and Source Identification in Karachi, Pakistan. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 18: 2550-2564. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2017.12.0579


  • Organic aerosol was characterized in Karachi for the first time.
  • High concentrations of PM2.5 and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were observed.
  • Combustion of fossil fuels and biomass were important anthropogenic sources.


With its rapidly growing population and large industrial base, the megacity of Karachi, Pakistan, has been subjected to an increasing amount of ambient particulate matter (PM). Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Karachi was collected every 24 hours from January 8 to January 29, 2006. The samples were extracted and analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) coupled with a triple quadrupole mass spectrometric detector (TQD) and time-of-flight (TOF) mass spectrometer. The daily PM2.5 levels ranged from 99.5 to 251.1 µg m–3 with a mean of 177.4 µg m–3, averaging 4–10-fold higher than the WHO guideline for 24-hour averaged PM2.5 (25 µg m–3). We found that the day-of-the-week variations of PM2.5 demonstrate Sundays have significantly lower concentrations (with a t-based confidence level of 95%), indicating that weekly behavioral patterns affect local PM2.5 concentrations. A significant negative correlation was found between the daily concentrations of levoglucosan, a biomass burning tracer, and the average daily temperatures (r = –0.589, p = 0.004), implicating heating as a major source of biomass burning emissions. Results indicate that polyaromatic hydrocarbons, hopanes, steranes, and alkanes are mainly emitted from fossil fuels and the combustion of carbonaceous materials. Organosulfates (OSs) and sulfonates were also quantified; significant correlations between OSs and sulfonates indicate a common source and/or similar formation mechanisms, while correlations with hopanes, steranes, and levoglucosan suggest their emission from primary sources such as fossil fuels and biomass burning. Qualitative analysis suggests the presence of a C6–C9 alkyl sulfate series. Through this study, the chemical composition and origin of the organic fraction of PM2.5 in Karachi has been evaluated for the first time, and the results indicate a strong anthropogenic influence on combustion emissions, particularly those from biomass and fossil fuel burning.

Keywords: Aerosol chemistry; Air quality; Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry; Liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry; PM2.5.


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