Characterization of oligomers from methylglyoxal under dark conditions: a pathway to produce secondary organic aerosol through cloud processing during nighttime
Abstract. Aqueous-phase oligomer formation from methylglyoxal, a major atmospheric photooxidation product, has been investigated in a simulated cloud matrix under dark conditions. The aim of this study was to explore an additional pathway producing secondary organic aerosol (SOA) through cloud processes without participation of photochemistry during nighttime. Indeed, atmospheric models still underestimate SOA formation, as field measurements have revealed more SOA than predicted. Soluble oligomers (n = 1–8) formed in the course of acid-catalyzed aldol condensation and acid-catalyzed hydration followed by acetal formation have been detected and characterized by positive and negative ion electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Aldol condensation proved to be a favorable mechanism under simulated cloud conditions, while hydration/acetal formation was found to strongly depend on the pH of the system and only occurred at a pH<3.5. No evidence was found for formation of organosulfates. The aldol oligomer series starts with a β-hydroxy ketone via aldol condensation, where oligomers are formed by multiple additions of C3H4O2 units (72 Da) to the parent β-hydroxy ketone. Ion trap mass spectrometry experiments were performed to structurally characterize the major oligomer species. A mechanistic pathway for the growth of oligomers under cloud conditions and in the absence of UV-light and OH radicals, which could substantially enhance in-cloud SOA yields, is proposed here for the first time.