Classifying organic materials by oxygen-to-carbon elemental ratio to predict the activation regime of Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN)
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences & Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Abstract. The governing highly soluble, slightly soluble, or insoluble activation regime of organic compounds as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) was examined as a function of oxygen-to-carbon elemental ratio (O : C). New data were collected for adipic, pimelic, suberic, azelaic, and pinonic acids. Secondary organic materials (SOMs) produced by α-pinene ozonolysis and isoprene photo-oxidation were also included in the analysis. The saturation concentrations C of the organic compounds in aqueous solutions served as the key parameter for delineating regimes of CCN activation, and the values of C were tightly correlated to the O : C ratios. The highly soluble, slightly soluble, and insoluble regimes of CCN activation were found to correspond to ranges of [O : C] > 0.6, 0.2 < [O : C] < 0.6, and [O : C] < 0.2, respectively. These classifications were evaluated against CCN activation data of isoprene-derived SOM (O : C = 0.69–0.72) and α-pinene-derived SOM (O : C = 0.38–0.48). Isoprene-derived SOM had highly soluble activation behavior, consistent with its high O : C ratio. For α-pinene-derived SOM, although CCN activation can be modeled as a highly soluble mechanism, this behavior was not predicted by the O : C ratio, for which a slightly soluble mechanism was anticipated. Complexity in chemical composition, resulting in continuous water uptake and the absence of a deliquescence transition that can thermodynamically limit CCN activation, might explain the difference in the behavior of α-pinene-derived SOM compared to that of pure organic compounds. The present results suggest that atmospheric particles dominated by hydrocarbon-like organic components do not activate (i.e., insoluble regime) whereas those dominated by oxygenated organic components activate (i.e., highly soluble regime) for typical atmospheric cloud life cycles.