28 Aug 2023
 | 28 Aug 2023

Identifying and correcting interferences to PTR-ToF-MS measurements of isoprene and other urban volatile organic compounds

Matthew M. Coggon, Chelsea E. Stockwell, Megan S. Claflin, Eva Y. Pfannerstill, Xu Lu, Jessica B. Gilman, Julia Marcantonio, Cong Cao, Kelvin Bates, Georgios I. Gkatzelis, Aaron Lamplugh, Erin F. Katz, Caleb Arata, Eric C. Apel, Rebecca S. Hornbrook, Felix Piel, Francesca Majluf, Donald R. Blake, Armin Wisthaler, Manjula Canagaratna, Brian M. Lerner, Allen H. Goldstein, John E. Mak, and Carsten Warneke

Abstract. Proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometry (PTR-ToF-MS) is a technique commonly used to measure ambient volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in urban, rural, and remote environments. PTR-ToF-MS is known to produce artifacts from ion fragmentation, which complicates the interpretation and quantification of key atmospheric VOCs. This study evaluates the extent to which fragmentation and other ionization processes impacts urban measurements of the PTR-ToF-MS ions typically assigned to isoprene (m/z 69, C5H8H+), acetaldehyde (m/z 45, CH3CHO+), and benzene (m/z 79, C6H6H+). Interferences from fragmentation are identified using gas-chromatography (GC) pre-separation and the impact of these interferences are quantified using ground-based and airborne measurements in a number of US cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, and Detroit. In urban regions with low biogenic isoprene emissions (e.g., Las Vegas), fragmentation from higher carbon aldehydes and cycloalkanes emitted from anthropogenic sources may contribute to m/z 69 by as much as 50 % during the day, while the majority of the signal at m/z 69 is attributed to fragmentation during the night. Interferences are a higher fraction of m/z 69 during airborne studies, which likely results from differences in the reactivity between isoprene and the interfering species along with the subsequent changes to the VOC mixture at higher altitudes. For other PTR masses, including m/z 45 and m/z 79, interferences are observed due to the fragmentation and secondary ionization of VOCs typically used in solvents, which are becoming a more important source of anthropogenic VOCs in urban areas. We present methods to correct these interferences, which provide better agreement with GC measurements of isomer specific molecules. These observations show the utility of deploying GC pre-separation for the interpretation PTR-ToF-MS spectra.

Matthew M. Coggon et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1497', Anonymous Referee #1, 19 Sep 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1497', Anonymous Referee #2, 27 Sep 2023

Matthew M. Coggon et al.

Matthew M. Coggon et al.


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Short summary
Mass spectrometry is a tool commonly used to measure air pollutants. This study evaluates measurement artifacts produced in the proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometer. We provide methods to correct these biases and better measure compounds that contribute to the formation of air pollution.