Articles | Volume 15, issue 4
Research article
20 Feb 2015
Research article |  | 20 Feb 2015

SO2 photolysis as a source for sulfur mass-independent isotope signatures in stratospehric aerosols

A. R. Whitehill, B. Jiang, H. Guo, and S. Ono

Abstract. Signatures of sulfur isotope mass-independent fractionation (S-MIF) have been observed in stratospheric sulfate aerosols deposited in polar ice. The S-MIF signatures are thought to be associated with stratospheric photochemistry following stratospheric volcanic eruptions, but the exact mechanism responsible for the production and preservation of these signatures is debated. In order to identify the origin and the mechanism of preservation for these signatures, a series of laboratory photochemical experiments were carried out to investigate the effect of temperature and added O2 on the S-MIF produced by two absorption band systems of SO2: photolysis in the 190 to 220 nm region and photoexcitation in the 250 to 350 nm region. The SO2 photolysis (SO2 + → SO + O) experiments showed S-MIF signals with large 34S/34S fractionations, which increases with decreasing temperature. The overall S-MIF pattern observed for photolysis experiments, including high 34S/34S fractionations, positive mass-independent anomalies in 33S, and negative anomalies in 36S, is consistent with a major contribution from optical isotopologue screening effects and data for stratospheric sulfate aerosols. In contrast, SO2 photoexcitation produced products with positive S-MIF anomalies in both 33S and 36S, which is different from stratospheric sulfate aerosols. SO2 photolysis in the presence of O2 produced SO3 with S-MIF signals, suggesting the transfer of the S-MIF anomalies from SO to SO3 by the SO + O2 + M → SO3 + M reaction. This is supported with energy calculations of stationary points on the SO3 potential energy surfaces, which indicate that this reaction occurs slowly on a single adiabatic surface, but that it can occur more rapidly through intersystem crossing. Based on our experimental results, we estimate a termolecular rate constant on the order of 10−37 cm6 molecule−2 s−1. This rate can explain the preservation of mass independent isotope signatures in stratospheric sulfate aerosols and provides a minor, but important, oxidation pathway for stratospheric SO2. The production and preservation of S-MIF signals requires a high SO2 column density to allow for optical isotopologue screening effects to occur and to generate a large enough signature that it can be preserved. In addition, the SO2 plume must reach an altitude of around 20 to 25 km, where SO2 photolysis becomes a dominant process. These experiments are the first step towards understanding the origin of the sulfur isotope anomalies in stratospheric sulfate aerosols.

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