Articles | Volume 11, issue 16
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 8721–8733, 2011
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 8721–8733, 2011

Research article 25 Aug 2011

Research article | 25 Aug 2011

Atmospheric chemistry of carboxylic acids: microbial implication versus photochemistry

M. Vaïtilingom4,3,2,1, T. Charbouillot5,4,3,6, L. Deguillaume4,3, R. Maisonobe2,1, M. Parazols5,2,1,6, P. Amato2,1, M. Sancelme2,1, and A.-M. Delort2,1 M. Vaïtilingom et al.
  • 1Clermont Université, Université Blaise Pascal, Laboratoire de Synthèse Et Etude de Systèmes à Intérêt Biologique, BP 10448, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 2CNRS, UMR6504, 63177 Aubière, France
  • 3Clermont Université, Université Blaise Pascal, OPGC, Laboratoire de Météorologie Physique (LaMP), BP 10448, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 4CNRS, UMR6016, 63177 Aubière, France
  • 5Clermont Université, Université Blaise Pascal, Laboratoire de Photochimie Moléculaire et Macromoléculaire (LPMM), BP 10448, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 6CNRS, UMR6505, 63177 Aubière, France

Abstract. The objective of this work was to compare experimentally the contribution of photochemistry vs. microbial activity to the degradation of carboxylic acids present in cloud water. For this, we selected 17 strains representative of the microflora existing in real clouds and worked on two distinct artificial cloud media that reproduce marine and continental cloud chemical composition. Photodegradation experiments with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as a source of hydroxyl radicals were performed under the same microcosm conditions using two irradiation systems. Biodegradation and photodegradation rates of acetate, formate, oxalate and succinate were measured on both media at 5 °C and 17 °C and were shown to be on the same order of magnitude (around 10−10–10−11 M s−1). The chemical composition (marine or continental origin) had little influence on photodegradation and biodegradation rates while the temperature shift from 17 °C to 5 °C decreased biodegradation rates of a factor 2 to 5.

In order to test other photochemical scenarios, theoretical photodegradation rates were calculated considering hydroxyl (OH) radical concentration values in cloud water estimated by cloud chemistry modelling studies and available reaction rate constants of carboxylic compounds with both hydroxyl and nitrate radicals. Considering high OH concentration ([OH] = 1 × 10−12 M) led to no significant contribution of microbial activity in the destruction of carboxylic acids. On the contrary, for lower OH concentration (at noon, [OH] = 1 × 10−14 M), microorganisms could efficiently compete with photochemistry and in similar contributions than the ones estimated by our experimental approach.

Combining these two approaches (experimental and theoretical), our results led to the following conclusions: oxalate was only photodegraded; the photodegradation of formate was usually more efficient than its biodegradation; the biodegradation of acetate and succinate seemed to exceed their photodegradation.

Final-revised paper