Articles | Volume 14, issue 16
Research article
21 Aug 2014
Research article |  | 21 Aug 2014

Distinguishing molecular characteristics of aerosol water soluble organic matter from the 2011 trans-North Atlantic US GEOTRACES cruise

A. S. Wozniak, A. S. Willoughby, S. C. Gurganus, and P. G. Hatcher

Abstract. The molecular characteristics of aerosol organic matter (OM) determines to a large extent its impacts on the atmospheric radiative budget and ecosystem function in terrestrial and aquatic environments, yet the OM molecular details of aerosols from different sources are not well established. Aerosol particulate samples with North American-influenced, North African-influenced, and marine (minimal recent continental influence) air mass back trajectories were collected as part of the 2011 trans-North Atlantic US GEOTRACES cruise and analyzed for their water soluble OM (WSOM) molecular characteristics using electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry. Principal component analysis (PCA) separated the samples into five groups defined by distinct molecular formula characteristics. An abundance of nitrogen containing compounds with molecular formulas consistent with amino acid derivatives defined the two samples comprising the primary marine group (henceforth referred to as Primary Marine), which suggest a primary marine biological source to their WSOM in spite of their North American-influenced air mass trajectories. A second group of samples (aged marine, henceforth referred to as Aged Marine) with marine air mass trajectories was characterized by an abundance of low O / C (0.15–0.45) sulfur containing compounds consistent with organosulfate compounds formed via secondary aging reactions in the atmosphere. Several samples having North American-influenced air mass trajectories formed another group again characterized by organosulfate and nitrooxyorganosulfate type compounds with higher O / C ratios (0.5–1.0) than the Aged Marine samples reflecting the combustion influence from the North American continent. All the samples with North African-influenced air mass trajectories were grouped together in the PCA and were characterized by a lack of heteroatom (N, S, P) containing molecular formulas covering a wide O / C range (0.15–0.90) reflecting the desert source of this WSOM. The two marine groups showed molecular formulas that, on average, had higher H / C ratios and lower O / C ratios and modified aromaticity indices than the two continentally influenced groups, which suggests that these properties are characteristic of marine vs. continental aerosol WSOM. The final sample group, the mixed source samples (henceforth referred to as Mixed Source), showed intermediate molecular characteristics, which suggests no dominant continental or marine source. The source-specific OM details described here will aid efforts to link aerosol OM source with molecular characteristics and impacts in the environment.

Final-revised paper