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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 14, issue 22
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 12209-12223, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 12209-12223, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 20 Nov 2014

Research article | 20 Nov 2014

Missing SO2 oxidant in the coastal atmosphere? – observations from high-resolution measurements of OH and atmospheric sulfur compounds

H. Berresheim1, M. Adam1, C. Monahan1, C. O'Dowd1, J. M. C. Plane2, B. Bohn3, and F. Rohrer3 H. Berresheim et al.
  • 1School of Physics & Centre for Climate and Air Pollution Studies, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  • 2School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  • 3Institute for Energy and Climate Research (IEK-8), Research Center Jülich, Jülich, Germany

Abstract. Diurnal and seasonal variations of gaseous sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and methane sulfonic acid (MSA) were measured in NE Atlantic air at the Mace Head atmospheric research station during the years 2010 and 2011. The measurements utilized selected-ion chemical ionization mass spectrometry (SI/CIMS) with a detection limit for both compounds of 4.3 × 104 cm−3 at 5 min signal integration. The H2SO4 and MSA gas-phase concentrations were analyzed in conjunction with the condensational sink for both compounds derived from 3 nm to 10 μm (aerodynamic diameter) aerosol size distributions. Accommodation coefficients of 1.0 for H2SO4 and 0.12 for MSA were assumed, leading to estimated atmospheric lifetimes on the order of 7 and 25 min, respectively. With the SI/CIMS instrument in OH measurement mode alternating between OH signal and background (non-OH) signal, evidence was obtained for the presence of one or more unknown oxidants of SO2 in addition to OH. Depending on the nature of the oxidant(s), its ambient concentration may be enhanced in the CIMS inlet system by additional production. The apparent unknown SO2 oxidant was additionally confirmed by direct measurements of SO2 in conjunction with calculated H2SO4 concentrations. The calculated H2SO4 concentrations were consistently lower than the measured concentrations by a factor of 4.7 ± 2.4 when considering the oxidation of SO2 by OH as the only source of H2SO4. Both the OH and the background signal were also observed to increase significantly during daytime aerosol nucleation events, independent of the ozone photolysis frequency, J(O1D), and were followed by peaks in both H2SO4 and MSA concentrations. This suggests a strong relation between the unknown oxidant(s), OH chemistry, and the atmospheric photolysis and photooxidation of biogenic iodine compounds. As to the identity of the atmospheric SO2 oxidant(s), we have been able to exclude ClO, BrO, IO, and OIO as possible candidates based on {ab initio} calculations. Nevertheless, IO could contribute significantly to the observed CIMS background signal. A detailed analysis of this CIMS background signal in context with recently published kinetic data currently suggests that Criegee intermediates (CIs) produced from ozonolysis of alkenes play no significant role for SO2 oxidation in the marine atmosphere at Mace Head. On the other hand, SO2 oxidation by small CIs such as CH2OO produced photolytically or possibly in the photochemical degradation of methane is consistent with our observations. In addition, H2SO4 formation from dimethyl sulfide oxidation via SO3 as an intermediate instead of SO2 also appears to be a viable explanation. Both pathways need to be further explored.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Sulfuric acid plays a major role in the formation of aerosol particles and clouds. Measurements at the west coast of Ireland reveal that oxidation of SO2 by OH explains only 20%, on average, of H2SO4 formation in coastal marine air. Additional sources may be (a) oxidation by Criegee intermediates produced photolytically and/or (b) formation from SO3 instead of SO2 in the oxidation of dimethyl sulfide, suggesting an important role of marine emissions in the self-cleaning power of the atmosphere.
Sulfuric acid plays a major role in the formation of aerosol particles and clouds. Measurements...