Articles | Volume 14, issue 23
Research article
05 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 05 Dec 2014

Emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds and subsequent photochemical production of secondary organic aerosol in mesocosm studies of temperate and tropical plant species

K. P. Wyche, A. C. Ryan, C. N. Hewitt, M. R. Alfarra, G. McFiggans, T. Carr, P. S. Monks, K. L. Smallbone, G. Capes, J. F. Hamilton, T. A. M. Pugh, and A. R. MacKenzie

Abstract. Silver birch (Betula pendula) and three Southeast Asian tropical plant species (Ficus cyathistipula, Ficus benjamina and Caryota millis) from the pantropical fig and palm genera were grown in a purpose-built and environment-controlled whole-tree chamber. The volatile organic compounds emitted from these trees were characterised and fed into a linked photochemical reaction chamber where they underwent photo-oxidation under a range of controlled conditions (relative humidity or RH ~65–89%, volatile organic compound-to-NOx or VOC / NOx ~3–9 and NOx ~2 ppbV). Both the gas phase and the aerosol phase of the reaction chamber were monitored in detail using a comprehensive suite of on-line and off-line chemical and physical measurement techniques.

Silver birch was found to be a high monoterpene and sesquiterpene but low isoprene emitter, and its emissions were observed to produce measurable amounts of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) via both nucleation and condensation onto pre-existing seed aerosol (YSOA 26–39%). In contrast, all three tropical species were found to be high isoprene emitters with trace emissions of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. In tropical plant experiments without seed aerosol there was no measurable SOA nucleation, but aerosol mass was shown to increase when seed aerosol was present. Although principally isoprene emitting, the aerosol mass produced from tropical fig was mostly consistent (i.e. in 78 out of 120 aerosol mass calculations using plausible parameter sets of various precursor specific yields) with condensation of photo-oxidation products of the minor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) co-emitted; no significant aerosol yield from condensation of isoprene oxidation products was required in the interpretations of the experimental results. This finding is in line with previous reports of organic aerosol loadings consistent with production from minor biogenic VOCs co-emitted with isoprene in principally isoprene-emitting landscapes in Southeast Asia. Moreover, in general the amount of aerosol mass produced from the emissions of the principally isoprene-emitting plants was less than would be expected from published single-VOC experiments, if co-emitted species were solely responsible for the final SOA mass. Interpretation of the results obtained from the fig data sets leaves room for a potential role for isoprene in inhibiting SOA formation under certain ambient atmospheric conditions, although instrumental and experimental constraints impose a level of caution in the interpretation of the results.

Concomitant gas- and aerosol-phase composition measurements also provide a detailed overview of numerous key oxidation mechanisms at work within the systems studied, and their combined analysis provides insight into the nature of the SOA formed.

Final-revised paper