Real-time, controlled OH-initiated oxidation of biogenic secondary organic aerosol
The chemical complexity of atmospheric organic aerosol (OA) requires novel methods for characterization of its components and description of its atmospheric processing-induced transformations. We present the first field deployment of the Toronto Photooxidation Tube (TPOT), a field-deployable flow reactor for the controlled exposure of ambient aerosol to OH radicals. The system alternates between sampling of (1) (unreacted) ambient aerosol, (2) aerosol exposed to UV light and subjected to a ~4 to 10 °C temperature increase, and (3) aerosol that is oxidized by OH (in addition to the aforementioned UV exposure/temperature increase). This allows both characterization of the aging process and classification of aerosol in terms of its volatility and reaction-based properties. Summertime measurements by an aerosol mass spectrometer coupled to the TPOT were performed in the remote forest of western Canada, resulting in aerosol dominated by biogenic secondary organic aerosol. Volatilization/UV exposure resulted in an approximately 10 to 25% decrease in organic mass and resulted in a slight increase in oxygenation. OH oxidation resulted in a further organic mass decrease (additional ~25%) and yielded an aerosol with O:C values comparable to those characteristic of low volatility, highly oxygenated OA. Most OH-induced changes occurred within ~3 day-equivalents of atmospheric processing, with further reactions generally proceeding at a greatly reduced rate. Positive matrix factorization (PMF) analysis of the TPOT data yielded five factors. One factor is related to primary biomass burning organic aerosol, while the others describe oxygenated organic aerosol (OOA) components in terms of reactivity and volatility: (1) volatile and reactive; (2) non-volatile and reactive; (3) non-volatile and reactive early-generation product; (4) non-volatile and non-reactive product. This PMF classification of aerosol components directly in terms of reactivity and volatility is enabled by the TPOT-modulated perturbation of aerosol composition, and is not otherwise accessible. The particle-phase reaction end products have mass spectra similar to the low-volatility oxygenated organic aerosol (LV-OOA) factors widely reported in the literature, providing supporting evidence for aged organic aerosol formation from OH-driven oxidation processes.