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Title: Elemental ratio measurements of organic compounds using aerosol mass spectrometry: characterization, improved calibration, and implications

Elemental compositions of organic aerosol (OA) particles provide useful constraints on OA sources, chemical evolution, and effects. The Aerodyne high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer (HR-ToF-AMS) is widely used to measure OA elemental composition. This study evaluates AMS measurements of atomic oxygen-to-carbon (O : C), hydrogen-to-carbon (H : C), organic mass-to-organic carbon (OM : OC), and carbon oxidation state (OS C) for a vastly expanded laboratory dataset of multifunctional oxidized OA standards. For the expanded standard dataset, the "Aiken-Explicit" method (Aiken et al., 2008), which uses experimentally measured ion intensities at all ions to determine elemental ratios, reproduces known molecular O : C and H : C ratio values within 20% (average absolute value of relative errors) and 12% respectively. The more commonly used "Aiken-Ambient" method, which uses empirically estimated H 2O + and CO + ion intensities to avoid gas phase air interferences at these ions, reproduces O : C and H : C of multifunctional oxidized species within 28% and 14% of known values. These values are systematically biased low, however, with larger biases observed for alcohols and simple diacids. A detailed examination of the H 2O +, CO +, and CO 2 + fragments in the high-resolution massmore » spectra of the standard compounds indicates that the Aiken-Ambient method underestimates the CO + and H 2O + produced from many oxidized species. Combined AMS-vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) ionization measurements indicate that these ions are produced by dehydration and decarboxylation on the AMS vaporizer (usually operated at 600 °C). Thermal decomposition is observed to be efficient at vaporizer temperatures down to 200 °C. These results are used together to develop an "Improved-Ambient" elemental analysis method for AMS spectra measured in air. The Improved-Ambient method reduces the systematic biases and reproduces O : C (H : C) ratios of individual oxidized standards within 28% (13%) of the known molecular values. The error in Improved-Ambient O : C and H : C values is smaller (12% and 4% respectively) for synthetic mixtures of the oxidized organic standards, which are more representative of the complex mix of species present in ambient OA. For ambient OA, the Improved-Ambient method produces O : C (H : C) values that are 27% (11%) larger than previously published Aiken-Ambient values; a corresponding increase of 9% is observed for OM : OC values. These results imply that ambient OA has a higher relative oxygen content than previously estimated. The OS C values calculated for ambient OA by the two methods agree well, however (average relative difference of 0.06 OS C units). This indicates that OS C is a more robust metric of oxidation than O : C, likely since OS C is not affected by hydration or dehydration, either in the atmosphere or during analysis.« less
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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions (Online)
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Journal Name: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions (Online); Journal Volume: 14; Journal Issue: 13; Journal ID: ISSN 1680-7375
European Geosciences Union
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