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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 18, issue 19 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 18, 14539-14553, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 11 Oct 2018

Research article | 11 Oct 2018

Heterogeneous OH oxidation of secondary brown carbon aerosol

Elijah G. Schnitzler and Jonathan P. D. Abbatt Elijah G. Schnitzler and Jonathan P. D. Abbatt
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, M5S 3H6, Canada

Abstract. Light-absorbing organic aerosol, or brown carbon (BrC), has significant but poorly constrained effects on climate; for example, oxidation in the atmosphere may alter its optical properties, leading to absorption enhancement or bleaching. Here, we investigate for the first time the effects of heterogeneous OH oxidation on the optical properties of a laboratory surrogate of aqueous, secondary BrC in a series of photo-oxidation chamber experiments. The BrC surrogate was generated from aqueous resorcinol, or 1,3-dihydroxybenzene, and H2O2 exposed to  > 300nm radiation that is atomized, passed through trace gas denuders, and injected into the chamber, which was conditioned to either 15% or 60% relative humidity (RH). Aerosol absorption and scattering coefficients and single scattering albedo (SSA) at 405nm were measured using a photoacoustic spectrometer. At 60% RH, upon OH exposure, absorption first increased, and the SSA decreased sharply. Subsequently, absorption decreased faster than scattering, and SSA increased gradually. Comparisons to the modelled trend in SSA, based on Mie theory calculations, confirm that the observed trend is due to chemical evolution, rather than slight changes in particle size. The initial absorption enhancement is likely due to molecular functionalization and/or oligomerization and the bleaching to fragmentation. By contrast, at 15% RH, slow absorption enhancement was observed without appreciable bleaching. A multi-layer kinetics model, consisting of two surface reactions in series, was constructed to provide further insights regarding the RH dependence of the optical evolution. Candidate parameters suggest that the oxidation is efficient, with uptake coefficients on the order of unity. The parameters also suggest that, as RH decreases, reactivity decreases and aerosol viscosity increases, such that particles are well-mixed at 60% RH but not at 15% RH. These results further the current understanding of the complex processing of BrC that may occur in the atmosphere.

Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Brown carbon (BrC) has significant but poorly constrained effects on climate. In this work, we investigate the effects of the OH radical on optical properties of secondary BrC in a series of smog chamber experiments. At high relative humidity (RH), we find that the evolution of the particles is complex, exhibiting rapid absorption enhancement followed by slow bleaching. At low RH, bleaching does not occur. These results further our understanding of the highly variable evolution of ambient BrC.
Brown carbon (BrC) has significant but poorly constrained effects on climate. In this work, we...