Constraining Predicted Secondary Organic Aerosol Formation and Processing Using Real-Time Observations of Aging Urban Emissions in an Oxidation Flow Reactor
Abstract:To investigate atmospheric processing of urban emissions, we deployed an oxidation flow reactor with measurements of size-resolved chemical composition of submicron aerosol during CalNex-LA, a field study investigating air quality and climate change at a receptor site in the Los Angeles Basin. The reactor produces OH concentrations up to 4 orders of magnitude higher than in ambient air, achieving equivalent atmospheric aging of hours to ~2 weeks in 5 minutes of processing. The OH exposure (OHexp) was stepped every 20 min to survey the effects of a range of oxidation exposures on gases and aerosols. This approach is a valuable tool for in-situ evaluation of changes in organic aerosol (OA) concentration and composition due to photochemical processing over a range of ambient atmospheric conditions and composition. Combined with collocated gas-phase measurements of volatile organic compounds, this novel approach enables the comparison of measured SOA to predicted SOA formation from a prescribed set of precursors.
Results from CalNex-LA show enhancements of OA and inorganic aerosol from gas-phase precursors. The OA mass enhancement from aging was highest at night and correlated with trimethylbenzene, indicating the importance of relatively short-lived VOC (OH lifetime of ~12 hrs or less) as SOA precursors in the LA Basin. Maximum net SOA production is observed between 3-6 days of aging and decreases at higher exposures. Aging in the reactor shows similar behavior to atmospheric processing; the elemental composition of ambient and reactor measurements follow similar slopes when plotted in a Van Krevelen diagram. Additionally, for air processed in the reactor, oxygen-to-carbon ratios (O/C) of aerosol extended over a larger range compared to ambient aerosol observed in the LA Basin. While reactor aging always increases O/C, often beyond maximum observed ambient levels, a transition from net OA production to destruction occurs at intermediate OHexp, suggesting a transition from functionalization/condensation at low-to-moderate OHexp to fragmentation/evaporation dominating at very high OHexp. A traditional SOA model with mostly aromatic precursors underpredicts the amount of SOA formed in the reactor by an order-of-magnitude, which is consistent with model evaluations for ambient air at many polluted locations.