Particulate matter (PM) episodes at a suburban site in Hong Kong: evolution of PM characteristics and role of photochemistry in secondary aerosol formation
Episodes with high concentrations of particulate matter (PM) across the seasons were investigated during four 1-month campaigns at a suburban site in Hong Kong. High-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS) measurements revealed that both regional transport and secondary formation contributed to high PM levels during the episodes at this site. Based on distinct meteorological conditions, episodes were categorized into three types: liquid water content (LWC), solar irradiance (IR), and long-range transport (LRT). Despite the difference in meteorological conditions, all episodes were characterized by a high fraction of sulfate (45–56 %) and organics (23–34 %). However, aerosols in LWC episodes were less aged, consisting of the lowest fraction of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) and the highest fraction of small particles. Large particles mixed internally while freshly formed small particles mixed externally in LWC episodes. Aerosols in LRT episodes, by contrast, were the most aged and consisted of the highest proportion of low-volatility oxygenated organic aerosol (LVOOA) and the lowest proportion of small particles. Both small and large particles mixed externally in LRT episodes. The highest proportion of semi-volatile oxygenated organic aerosol (SVOOA) and a medium proportion of small particles were observed in IR episodes. Both small and large particles were likely externally mixed during IR episodes. Furthermore, aerosols experienced the most dramatic size increase and diurnal variation, with a time lag between SVOOA and LVOOA and a gradual increase in carbon oxidation state ( text-decoration: overline;OSc ≈ 2 × O : C − H : C). Five out of 10 episodes were of the IR type, further reflecting the importance of this type of episode. The evolution of aerosol components in one particular episode of the IR type, which exhibited a clear land–sea breeze pattern, was examined in detail. Sulfate and SOA due to photochemical aging were very efficiently produced during the course of 6 h. The “less-oxidized” SOA (SVOOA) was initially formed at a higher rate than the “more-oxidized” SOA (LVOOA). The SVOOA transformed to LVOOA at the later stage of photochemical aging. This transformation was further supported by mass spectral analysis, which showed an increase in the most oxidized ion (CO 2+) and decreases in moderately oxidized ones (C 2H 3O +, C 3H 3O + and C 3H 5O +). By measuring the physical and chemical properties of PM in a highly time-resolved manner, the current study was able to demonstrate the dynamic and complex nature of PM transformation during high-PM episodes.