Chemical and optical properties of organic aerosols in the atmosphere over continental US: formation, partitioning, and light absorption
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The chemical and optical properties of particulate organic compounds remain unclear, which leaves large uncertainties in the estimation of global radiative transfer balance. Gas and find particle (PM2.5) phase formic acid concentrations were measured with online instrumentation during separate one-month studies in the summer of 2010 in Los Angeles (LA), CA, and Atlanta, GA, and the gas-particle partitioning behavior was investigated and compared with that of water-soluble organic compounds (WSOC). The diurnal profiles clearly indicated that the photochemistry production serves as a strong source for the formation of organics, while the correlation between the gas and particle phase suggested that another partitioning route, the aqueous reactions, is also very important. Later, the optical properties of light-absorbing organic compounds were examined. Little is known about the optical importance of light absorbing particulate organic compounds (brown carbon), especially its extent and absorption relative to black carbon throughout the tropospheric column. Mie theory was applied to size-resolved spectrophotometric absorption measurements of methanol and water-extracts from cascade impactor substrates collected at three surface sites around Atlanta, GA, including both urban and rural. These results were applied to similar measurements of brown carbon in extracts from aircraft bulk filter samples collected over central USA. At the surface sites predicted light absorption by brown carbon relative to total absorption (brown carbon plus pure black carbon) was about 10% and 30% at 350 nm, versus 1 and 11% at 450 nm, for water and methanol extracts, respectively. The relative contribution of brown carbon was greater in the free troposphere and significantly increased with altitude. Although this approach has limitations, it demonstrates the ubiquity and significant potential contribution of brown carbon.