Mechanisms leading to oligomers and SOA through aqueous photooxidation: insights from OH radical oxidation of acetic acid and methylglyoxal
Previous experiments have demonstrated that the aqueous OH radical oxidation of methylglyoxal produces low volatility products including pyruvate, oxalate and oligomers. These products are found predominantly in the particle phase in the atmosphere, suggesting that methylglyoxal is a precursor of secondary organic aerosol (SOA). Acetic acid plays a central role in the aqueous oxidation of methylglyoxal and it is a ubiquitous product of gas phase photochemistry, making it a potential "aqueous" SOA precursor in its own right. However, the fate of acetic acid upon aqueous-phase oxidation is not well understood. In this research, acetic acid (20 μM–10 mM) was oxidized by OH radicals, and pyruvic acid and methylglyoxal experimental samples were analyzed using new analytical methods, in order to better understand the formation of SOA from acetic acid and methylglyoxal. Glyoxylic, glycolic, and oxalic acids formed from acetic acid and OH radicals. In contrast to the aqueous OH radical oxidation of methylglyoxal, the aqueous OH radical oxidation of acetic acid did not produce succinic acid and oligomers. This suggests that the methylgloxal-derived oligomers do not form through the acid catalyzed esterification pathway proposed previously. Using results from these experiments, radical mechanisms responsible for oligomer formation from methylglyoxal oxidation in clouds and wet aerosols are proposed. The importance of acetic acid/acetate as an SOA precursor is also discussed. We hypothesize that this and similar chemistry is central to the daytime formation of oligomers in wet aerosols.