Articles | Volume 10, issue 17
02 Sep 2010
 | 02 Sep 2010

Glyoxal processing by aerosol multiphase chemistry: towards a kinetic modeling framework of secondary organic aerosol formation in aqueous particles

B. Ervens and R. Volkamer

Abstract. This study presents a modeling framework based on laboratory data to describe the kinetics of glyoxal reactions that form secondary organic aerosol (SOA) in aqueous aerosol particles. Recent laboratory results on glyoxal reactions are reviewed and a consistent set of empirical reaction rate constants is derived that captures the kinetics of glyoxal hydration and subsequent reversible and irreversible reactions in aqueous inorganic and water-soluble organic aerosol seeds. Products of these processes include (a) oligomers, (b) nitrogen-containing products, (c) photochemical oxidation products with high molecular weight. These additional aqueous phase processes enhance the SOA formation rate in particles and yield two to three orders of magnitude more SOA than predicted based on reaction schemes for dilute aqueous phase (cloud) chemistry for the same conditions (liquid water content, particle size).

The application of the new module including detailed chemical processes in a box model demonstrates that both the time scale to reach aqueous phase equilibria and the choice of rate constants of irreversible reactions have a pronounced effect on the predicted atmospheric relevance of SOA formation from glyoxal. During day time, a photochemical (most likely radical-initiated) process is the major SOA formation pathway forming ∼5 μg m−3 SOA over 12 h (assuming a constant glyoxal mixing ratio of 300 ppt). During night time, reactions of nitrogen-containing compounds (ammonium, amines, amino acids) contribute most to the predicted SOA mass; however, the absolute predicted SOA masses are reduced by an order of magnitude as compared to day time production. The contribution of the ammonium reaction significantly increases in moderately acidic or neutral particles (5 < pH < 7).

Glyoxal uptake into ammonium sulfate seed under dark conditions can be represented with a single reaction parameter keffupt that does not depend on aerosol loading or water content, which indicates a possibly catalytic role of aerosol water in SOA formation. However, the reversible nature of uptake under dark conditions is not captured by keffupt, and can be parameterized by an effective Henry's law constant including an equilibrium constant Kolig = 1000 (in ammonium sulfate solution). Such reversible glyoxal oligomerization contributes <1% to total predicted SOA masses at any time.

Sensitivity tests reveal five parameters that strongly affect the predicted SOA mass from glyoxal: (1) time scales to reach equilibrium states (as opposed to assuming instantaneous equilibrium), (2) particle pH, (3) chemical composition of the bulk aerosol, (4) particle surface composition, and (5) particle liquid water content that is mostly determined by the amount and hygroscopicity of aerosol mass and to a lesser extent by the ambient relative humidity.

Glyoxal serves as an example molecule, and the conclusions about SOA formation in aqueous particles can serve for comparative studies of other molecules that form SOA as the result of multiphase chemical processing in aerosol water. This SOA source is currently underrepresented in atmospheric models; if included it is likely to bring SOA predictions (mass and O/C ratio) into better agreement with field observations.

Final-revised paper