Articles | Volume 17, issue 8
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 5035–5061, 2017
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17, 5035–5061, 2017

Research article 19 Apr 2017

Research article | 19 Apr 2017

Assessing the influence of NOx concentrations and relative humidity on secondary organic aerosol yields from α-pinene photo-oxidation through smog chamber experiments and modelling calculations

Lisa Stirnweis1,a, Claudia Marcolli2,3, Josef Dommen1, Peter Barmet1,b, Carla Frege1, Stephen M. Platt1,c, Emily A. Bruns1, Manuel Krapf1, Jay G. Slowik1, Robert Wolf1, Andre S. H. Prévôt1, Urs Baltensperger1, and Imad El-Haddad1 Lisa Stirnweis et al.
  • 1Laboratory of Atmospheric Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institute, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland
  • 2Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Marcolli Chemistry and Physics Consulting GmbH, Zurich, Switzerland
  • anow at: Department of Radiation Protection and Environment, Federal Office for Radiation Protection, 85764 Oberschleissheim, Germany
  • bnow at: Department Construction, Traffic and Environment, Canton of Aargau, 5001 Aarau, Switzerland
  • cnow at: Department of Atmosphere and Climate, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, 2007 Kjeller, Norway

Abstract. Secondary organic aerosol (SOA) yields from the photo-oxidation of α-pinene were investigated in smog chamber (SC) experiments at low (23–29 %) and high (60–69 %) relative humidity (RH), various NOx ∕ VOC ratios (0.04–3.8) and with different aerosol seed chemical compositions (acidic to neutralized sulfate-containing or hydrophobic organic). A combination of a scanning mobility particle sizer and an Aerodyne high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer was used to determine SOA mass concentration and chemical composition. We used a Monte Carlo approach to parameterize smog chamber SOA yields as a function of the condensed phase absorptive mass, which includes the sum of OA and the corresponding bound liquid water content. High RH increased SOA yields by up to 6 times (1.5–6.4) compared to low RH. The yields at low NOx ∕ VOC ratios were in general higher compared to yields at high NOx ∕ VOC ratios. This NOx dependence follows the same trend as seen in previous studies for α-pinene SOA.

A novel approach of data evaluation using volatility distributions derived from experimental data served as the basis for thermodynamic phase partitioning calculations of model mixtures in this study. These calculations predict liquid–liquid phase separation into organic-rich and electrolyte phases. At low NOx conditions, equilibrium partitioning between the gas and liquid phases can explain most of the increase in SOA yields observed at high RH, when in addition to the α-pinene photo-oxidation products described in the literature, fragmentation products are added to the model mixtures. This increase is driven by both the increase in the absorptive mass and the solution non-ideality described by the compounds' activity coefficients. In contrast, at high NOx, equilibrium partitioning alone could not explain the strong increase in the yields with RH. This suggests that other processes, e.g. reactive uptake of semi-volatile species into the liquid phase, may occur and be enhanced at higher RH, especially for compounds formed under high NOx conditions, e.g. carbonyls.

Final-revised paper