Inorganic salts interact with oxalic acid in submicron particles to form material with low hygroscopicity and volatility
Volatility and hygroscopicity are two key properties of organic aerosol components, and both are strongly related to chemical identity. While the hygroscopicities of pure salts, di-carboxylic acids (DCA), and DCA salts are known, the hygroscopicity of internal mixtures of these components, as they are typically found in the atmosphere, has not been fully characterized. Here we show that inorganic–organic component interactions typically not considered in atmospheric models can lead to very strongly bound metal–organic complexes and greatly affect aerosol volatility and hygroscopicity; in particular, the bi-dentate binding of DCA to soluble inorganic ions. We have studied the volatility of pure, dry organic salt particles and the hygroscopicity of internal mixtures of oxalic acid (OxA, the dominant DCA in the atmosphere) and a number of salts, both mono- and di-valent. The formation of very low volatility organic salts was confirmed, with minimal evaporation of oxalate salt particles below 75 °C. Dramatic increases in the cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) activation diameter for particles with di-valent salts (e.g., CaCl 2) and relatively small particle volume fractions of OxA indicate that standard volume additivity rules for hygroscopicity do not apply. Thus small organic compounds with high O : C ratios are capable of forming low-volatility and very low hygroscopicity particles. Given current knowledge of the formation mechanisms of OxA and M–Ox salts, surface enrichment of insoluble M–Ox salts is expected. The resulting formation of an insoluble coating of metal-oxalate salts can explain low-particle hygroscopicities. The formation of particles with a hard coating could offer an alternative explanation for observations of glass-like particles without the need for a phase transition.