Articles | Volume 15, issue 9
Research article
11 May 2015
Research article |  | 11 May 2015

Fine-particle water and pH in the southeastern United States

H. Guo, L. Xu, A. Bougiatioti, K. M. Cerully, S. L. Capps, J. R. Hite Jr., A. G. Carlton, S.-H. Lee, M. H. Bergin, N. L. Ng, A. Nenes, and R. J. Weber

Abstract. Particle water and pH are predicted using meteorological observations (relative humidity (RH), temperature (T)), gas/particle composition, and thermodynamic modeling (ISORROPIA-II). A comprehensive uncertainty analysis is included, and the model is validated. We investigate mass concentrations of particle water and related particle pH for ambient fine-mode aerosols sampled in a relatively remote Alabama forest during the Southern Oxidant and Aerosol Study (SOAS) in summer and at various sites in the southeastern US during different seasons, as part of the Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology (SCAPE) study. Particle water and pH are closely linked; pH is a measure of the particle H+ aqueous concentration and depends on both the presence of ions and amount of particle liquid water. Levels of particle water, in turn, are determined through water uptake by both the ionic species and organic compounds. Thermodynamic calculations based on measured ion concentrations can predict both pH and liquid water but may be biased since contributions of organic species to liquid water are not considered. In this study, contributions of both the inorganic and organic fractions to aerosol liquid water were considered, and predictions were in good agreement with measured liquid water based on differences in ambient and dry light scattering coefficients (prediction vs. measurement: slope = 0.91, intercept = 0.5 μg m−3, R2 = 0.75). ISORROPIA-II predictions were confirmed by good agreement between predicted and measured ammonia concentrations (slope = 1.07, intercept = −0.12 μg m−3, R2 = 0.76). Based on this study, organic species on average contributed 35% to the total water, with a substantially higher contribution (50%) at night. However, not including contributions of organic water had a minor effect on pH (changes pH by 0.15 to 0.23 units), suggesting that predicted pH without consideration of organic water could be sufficient for the purposes of aqueous secondary organic aerosol (SOA) chemistry. The mean pH predicted in the Alabama forest (SOAS) was 0.94 ± 0.59 (median 0.93). pH diurnal trends followed liquid water and were driven mainly by variability in RH; during SOAS nighttime pH was near 1.5, while daytime pH was near 0.5. pH ranged from 0.5 to 2 in summer and 1 to 3 in the winter at other sites. The systematically low pH levels in the southeast may have important ramifications, such as significantly influencing acid-catalyzed reactions, gas–aerosol partitioning, and mobilization of redox metals and minerals. Particle ion balances or molar ratios, often used to infer pH, do not consider the dissociation state of individual ions or particle liquid water levels and do not correlate with particle pH.

Short summary
Particle pH can affect many aerosol processes, including gas-particle partitioning, SOA formation, and mobilization of toxic redox metals. pH is challenging to directly measure and often improperly characterized by proxies like ion balances or molar ratios of measured aerosol ionic species. We present a detailed analysis predicting pH with a thermodynamic model, verify the prediction, and test pH sensitivity to model inputs based on data from the SOAS field campaign.
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