Articles | Volume 14, issue 3
Research article
12 Feb 2014
Research article |  | 12 Feb 2014

Hygroscopic and chemical characterisation of Po Valley aerosol

J. Bialek, M. Dall Osto, P. Vaattovaara, S. Decesari, J. Ovadnevaite, A. Laaksonen, and C. O'Dowd

Abstract. Continental summer-time aerosol in the Italian Po Valley was characterised in terms of hygroscopic properties and the influence of chemical composition therein. Additionally, the ethanol affinity of particles was analysed. The campaign-average minima in hygroscopic growth factors (HGFs, at 90% relative humidity) occurred just before and during sunrise from 03:00 to 06:00 LT (all data are reported in the local time), but, more generally, the hygroscopicity during the whole night is very low, particularly in the smaller particle sizes. The average HGFs recorded during the low HGF period were in a range from 1.18 (for the smallest, 35nm particles) to 1.38 (for the largest, 165 nm particles). During the day, the HGF gradually increased to achieve maximum values in the early afternoon hours 12:00–15:00, reaching 1.32 for 35 nm particles and 1.46 for 165 nm particles. Two contrasting case scenarios were encountered during the measurement period: Case 1 was associated with westerly air flow moving at a moderate pace and Case 2 was associated with more stagnant, slower moving air from the north-easterly sector. Case 1 exhibited weak diurnal temporal patterns, with no distinct maximum or minimum in HGF or chemical composition, and was associated with moderate non-refractory aerosol mass concentrations (for 50% size cut at 1 μ) of the order of 4.5 μg m−3. For Case 1, organics contributed typically 50% of the mass. Case 2 was characterised by >9.5 μg m−3 total non-refractory mass (<1 μ) in the early morning hours (04:00), decreasing to ~3 μg m−3 by late morning (10:00) and exhibited strong diurnal changes in chemical composition, particularly in nitrate mass but also in total organic mass concentrations. Specifically, the concentrations of nitrate peaked at night-time, along with the concentrations of hydrocarbon-like organic aerosol (HOA) and of semi-volatile oxygenated organic aerosol (SV-OOA). In general, organic growth factors (OGFs) followed a trend which was opposed to HGF and also to the total organic mass as measured by the aerosol mass spectrometer. The analysis of the HGF probability distribution function (PDF) reveals an existence of a predominant "more hygroscopic" (MH) mode with HGF of 1.5 around noon, and two additional modes: one with a "less hygroscopic" (LH) HGF of 1.26, and another with a "barely hygroscopic" (BH) mode of 1.05. Particles sized 165 nm exhibited moderate diurnal variability in HGF, ranging from 80% at night to 95% of "more hygroscopic" growth factors (i.e. HGFs 1.35–1.9) around noon. The diurnal changes in HGF progressively became enhanced with decreasing particle size, decreasing from 95% "more hygroscopic" growth factor fraction at noon to 10% fraction at midnight, while the "less hygroscopic" growth factor fraction (1.13–1.34) increased from 5% at noon to > 60% and the "barely hygroscopic" growth factor fraction (1.1–1.2) increased from less than 2% at noon to 30% at midnight. Surprisingly, the lowest HGFs occurred for the period when nitrate mass reached peak concentrations (Case 2). We hypothesised that the low HGFs of nitrate-containing particles can be explained by a) an organic coating suppressing the water-uptake, and/or by b) the existence of nitrates in a less hygroscopic state, e.g. as organic nitrates. The latter hypothesis allows us to explain also the reduced OGFs observed during the early morning hours (before dawn) when nitrate concentrations peaked, based on the evidence that organic nitrates have significant lower ethanol affinity than other SV-OOA compounds.

Final-revised paper