Articles | Volume 13, issue 24
Research article
23 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 23 Dec 2013

Size-resolved atmospheric particulate polysaccharides in the high summer Arctic

C. Leck, Q. Gao, F. Mashayekhy Rad, and U. Nilsson

Abstract. Size-resolved aerosol samples for subsequent quantitative determination of polymer sugars (polysaccharides) after hydrolysis to their subunit monomers (monosaccharides) were collected in surface air over the central Arctic Ocean during the biologically most active summer period. The analysis was carried out by novel use of liquid chromatography coupled with highly selective and sensitive tandem mass spectrometry. Polysaccharides were detected in particle sizes ranging from 0.035 to 10 μm in diameter with distinct features of heteropolysaccharides, enriched in xylose, glucose + mannose as well as a substantial fraction of deoxysugars. Polysaccharides, containing deoxysugar monomers, showed a bimodal size structure with about 70% of their mass found in the Aitken mode over the pack ice area. Pentose (xylose) and hexose (glucose + mannose) had a weaker bimodal character and were largely found with super-micrometer sizes and in addition with a minor sub-micrometer fraction. The concentration of total hydrolysable neutral sugars (THNS) in the samples collected varied over two orders of magnitude (1 to 160 pmol m−3) in the super-micrometer size fraction and to a somewhat lesser extent in sub-micrometer particles (4 to 140 pmol m−3). Lowest THNS concentrations were observed in air masses that had spent more than five days over the pack ice. Within the pack ice area, about 53% of the mass of hydrolyzed polysaccharides was detected in sub-micrometer particles. The relative abundance of sub-micrometer hydrolyzed polysaccharides could be related to the length of time that the air mass spent over pack ice, with the highest fraction (> 90%) observed for > 7 days of advection. The aerosol samples collected onboard ship showed similar monosaccharide composition, compared to particles generated experimentally in situ at the expedition's open lead site. This supports the existence of a primary particle source of polysaccharide containing polymer gels from open leads by bubble bursting at the air–sea interface. We speculate that the occurrence of atmospheric surface-active polymer gels with their hydrophilic and hydrophobic segments, promoting cloud droplet activation, could play a potential role as cloud condensation nuclei in the pristine high Arctic.

Final-revised paper