Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
27 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 27 Mar 2015

Using the chemical equilibrium partitioning space to explore factors influencing the phase distribution of compounds involved in secondary organic aerosol formation

F. Wania, Y. D. Lei, C. Wang, J. P. D. Abbatt, and K.-U. Goss

Abstract. Many atmospheric and chemical variables influence the partitioning equilibrium between gas phase and condensed phases of compounds implicated in the formation of secondary organic aerosol (SOA). The large number of factors and their interaction makes it often difficult to assess their relative importance and concerted impact. Here we introduce a two-dimensional space which maps regions of dominant atmospheric phase distribution within a coordinate system defined by equilibrium partition coefficients between the gas phase, an aqueous phase and a water-insoluble organic matter (WIOM) phase. Placing compounds formed from the oxidation of n-alkanes, terpenes and mono-aromatic hydrocarbons on the maps based on their predicted partitioning properties allows for a simple graphical assessment of their equilibrium phase distribution behaviour. Specifically, it allows for the simultaneous visualisation and quantitative comparison of the impact on phase distribution of changes in atmospheric parameters (such as temperature, salinity, WIOM-phase polarity, organic aerosol load, and liquid water content) and chemical properties (such as oxidation state, molecular size, functionalisation, and dimerisation). The graphical analysis reveals that the addition of hydroxyl, carbonyl and carboxyl groups increases the affinity of aliphatic, alicyclic and aromatic hydrocarbons for the aqueous phase more rapidly than their affinity for WIOM, suggesting that the aqueous phase may often be relevant even for substances that are considerably larger than the C2 and C3 compounds that are typically believed to be associated with aqueous SOA. In particular, the maps identify some compounds that contribute to SOA formation if partitioning to both WIOM and aqueous phase is considered but would remain in the gas phase if either condensed phase were neglected. For example, many semi-volatile α-pinene oxidation products will contribute to aqueous SOA under the conditions of high liquid water content encountered in clouds but would remain vapours in wet aerosol. It is conceivable to develop parameterisations of "partitioning basis sets" that group compounds with comparable partitioning properties, which – when combined with data on the abundance of those groups of compounds – could serve in the simulation of SOA formation.

Short summary
The manuscript presents a new way to graphically illustrate some of the processes that occur when organic particles form in the atmosphere. In particular, this method makes it possible to see how factors such as the composition of the atmosphere and temperature affect these processes.
Final-revised paper