Articles | Volume 18, issue 9
Research article
16 May 2018
Research article |  | 16 May 2018

Characterization of organic nitrogen in aerosols at a forest site in the southern Appalachian Mountains

Xi Chen, Mingjie Xie, Michael D. Hays, Eric Edgerton, Donna Schwede, and John T. Walker

Abstract. This study investigates the composition of organic particulate matter in PM2.5 in a remote montane forest in the southeastern US, focusing on the role of organic nitrogen (N) in sulfur-containing secondary organic aerosol (nitrooxy-organosulfates) and aerosols associated with biomass burning (nitro-aromatics). Bulk water-soluble organic N (WSON) represented  ∼  14 % ww of water-soluble total N (WSTN) in PM2.5 on average across seasonal measurement campaigns conducted in the spring, summer, and fall of 2015. The largest contributions of WSON to WSTN were observed in spring ( ∼  18 % ww) and the lowest in the fall ( ∼  10 % ww). On average, identified nitro-aromatic and nitrooxy-organosulfate compounds accounted for a small fraction of WSON, ranging from  ∼  1 % in spring to  ∼  4 % in fall, though were observed to contribute as much as 28 % ww of WSON in individual samples that were impacted by local biomass burning. The highest concentrations of oxidized organic N species occurred during summer (average of 0.65 ng N m−3) along with a greater relative abundance of higher-generation oxygenated terpenoic acids, indicating an association with more aged aerosol. The highest concentrations of nitro-aromatics (e.g., nitrocatechol and methyl-nitrocatechol), levoglucosan, and aged SOA tracers were observed during fall, associated with aged biomass burning plumes. Nighttime nitrate radical chemistry is the most likely formation pathway for nitrooxy-organosulfates observed at this low NOx site (generally < 1 ppb). Isoprene-derived organosulfate (MW216, 2-methyltetrol derived), which is formed from isoprene epoxydiols (IEPOX) under low NOx conditions, was the most abundant individual organosulfate. Concentration-weighted average WSON ∕ WSOC ratios for nitro-aromatics + organosulfates + terpenoic acids were 1 order of magnitude lower than the overall aerosol WSON ∕ WSOC ratio, indicating the presence of other uncharacterized higher-N-content species. Although nitrooxy-organosulfates and nitro-aromatics contributed a small fraction of WSON, our results provide new insight into the atmospheric formation processes and sources of these largely uncharacterized components of atmospheric organic N, which also helps to advance the atmospheric models to better understand the chemistry and deposition of reactive N.

Final-revised paper