Articles | Volume 11, issue 22
Research article
22 Nov 2011
Research article |  | 22 Nov 2011

Reactive processing of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in aqueous aerosol mimics: surface tension depression and secondary organic products

Z. Li, A. N. Schwier, N. Sareen, and V. F. McNeill

Abstract. The reactive uptake of carbonyl-containing volatile organic compounds (cVOCs) by aqueous atmospheric aerosols is a likely source of particulate organic material. The aqueous-phase secondary organic products of some cVOCs are surface-active. Therefore, cVOC uptake can lead to organic film formation at the gas-aerosol interface and changes in aerosol surface tension. We examined the chemical reactions of two abundant cVOCs, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, in water and aqueous ammonium sulfate (AS) solutions mimicking tropospheric aerosols. Secondary organic products were identified using Aerosol Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometry (Aerosol-CIMS), and changes in surface tension were monitored using pendant drop tensiometry. Hemiacetal oligomers and aldol condensation products were identified using Aerosol-CIMS. Acetaldehyde depresses surface tension to 65(±2) dyn cm−1 in pure water (a 10% surface tension reduction from that of pure water) and 62(±1) dyn cm−1 in AS solutions (a 20.6% reduction from that of a 3.1 M AS solution). Surface tension depression by formaldehyde in pure water is negligible; in AS solutions, a 9% reduction in surface tension is observed. Mixtures of these species were also studied in combination with methylglyoxal in order to evaluate the influence of cross-reactions on surface tension depression and product formation in these systems. We find that surface tension depression in the solutions containing mixed cVOCs exceeds that predicted by an additive model based on the single-species isotherms.

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