Quantifying organic matter and functional groups in particulate matter filter samples from the southeastern United States – Part 1: Methods
Comprehensive techniques to describe the organic composition of atmospheric aerosol are needed to elucidate pollution sources, gain insights into atmospheric chemistry, and evaluate changes in air quality. Fourier transform infrared absorption (FT-IR) spectrometry can be used to characterize atmospheric organic matter (OM) and its composition via functional groups of aerosol filter samples in air monitoring networks and research campaigns. We have built FT-IR spectrometry functional group calibration models that improve upon previous work, as demonstrated by the comparison of current model results with those of previous models and other OM analysis methods. Laboratory standards that simulated the breadth of the absorbing functional groups in atmospheric OM were made: particles of relevant chemicals were first generated, collected, and analyzed. Challenges of collecting atmospherically relevant particles and spectra were addressed by including interferences of particle water and other inorganic aerosol constituents and exploring the spectral effects of intermolecular interactions. Calibration models of functional groups were then constructed using partial least-squares (PLS) regression and the collected laboratory standard data. These models were used to quantify concentrations of five organic functional groups and OM in 8 years of ambient aerosol samples from the southeastern aerosol research and characterization (SEARCH) network. The results agreed with values estimated using other methods, including thermal optical reflectance (TOR) organic carbon (OC; R2=0.74) and OM calculated as a difference between total aerosol mass and inorganic species concentrations (R2=0.82). Comparisons with previous calibration models of the same type demonstrate that this new, more complete suite of chemicals has improved our ability to estimate oxygenated functional group and overall OM concentrations. Calculated characteristic and elemental ratios including OM∕OC, O∕C, and H∕C agree with those from previous work in the southeastern US, substantiating the aerosol composition described by FT-IR calibration. The median OM∕OC ratio over all sites and years was 2.1±0.2. Further results discussing temporal and spatial trends of functional group composition within the SEARCH network will be published in a forthcoming article.