Modeling organic aerosols in a megacity: comparison of simple and complex representations of the volatility basis set approach
- 1Atmospheric Sciences & Global Change Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA 99352, USA
- 2University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
- 3Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
- 4National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA
Abstract. The Weather Research and Forecasting model coupled with chemistry (WRF-Chem) is modified to include a volatility basis set (VBS) treatment of secondary organic aerosol formation. The VBS approach, coupled with SAPRC-99 gas-phase chemistry mechanism, is used to model gas-particle partitioning and multiple generations of gas-phase oxidation of organic vapors. In addition to the detailed 9-species VBS, a simplified mechanism using 2 volatility species (2-species VBS) is developed and tested for similarity to the 9-species VBS in terms of both mass and oxygen-to-carbon ratios of organic aerosols in the atmosphere. WRF-Chem results are evaluated against field measurements of organic aerosols collected during the MILAGRO 2006 campaign in the vicinity of Mexico City. The simplified 2-species mechanism reduces the computational cost by a factor of 2 as compared to 9-species VBS. Both ground site and aircraft measurements suggest that the 9-species and 2-species VBS predictions of total organic aerosol mass as well as individual organic aerosol components including primary, secondary, and biomass burning are comparable in magnitude. In addition, oxygen-to-carbon ratio predictions from both approaches agree within 25 %, providing evidence that the 2-species VBS is well suited to represent the complex evolution of organic aerosols. Model sensitivity to amount of anthropogenic semi-volatile and intermediate volatility (S/IVOC) precursor emissions is also examined by doubling the default emissions. Both the emission cases significantly under-predict primary organic aerosols in the city center and along aircraft flight transects. Secondary organic aerosols are predicted reasonably well along flight tracks surrounding the city, but are consistently over-predicted downwind of the city. Also, oxygen-to-carbon ratio predictions are significantly improved compared to prior studies by adding 15 % oxygen mass per generation of oxidation; however, all modeling cases still under-predict these ratios downwind as compared to measurements, suggesting a need to further improve chemistry parameterizations of secondary organic aerosol formation.