16 Mar 2023
 | 16 Mar 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Photoaging of Phenolic Secondary Organic Aerosol in the Aqueous Phase: Evolution of Chemical and Optical Properties and Effects of Oxidants

Wenqing Jiang, Christopher Niedek, Cort Anastasio, and Qi Zhang

Abstract. While gas-phase reactions are well established to have significant impacts on the mass concentration, chemical composition, and optical properties of secondary organic aerosol (SOA), the aqueous-phase aging of SOA remains poorly understood. In this study, we performed a series of long-duration photochemical aging experiments to investigate the evolution of the composition and light absorption of the aqueous SOA (aqSOA) from guaiacyl acetone (GA), a semivolatile phenolic carbonyl that is common in biomass burning smoke. The aqSOA was produced from reactions of GA with hydroxyl radical (•OH-aqSOA) or a triplet excited state of organic carbon (3C*-aqSOA) and was then photoaged in water under conditions that simulate sunlight exposure in northern California for up to 48 hours. The effects of increasing aqueous-phase •OH or 3C* concentration on the photoaging of the aqSOA were also studied. High resolution aerosol mass spectrometry (HR-AMS) and UV-vis spectroscopy were utilized to characterize the composition and the light absorptivity of the aqSOA and to track their changes during aging.

Compared to •OH-aqSOA, the 3C*-aqSOA is produced more rapidly and shows less oxidation, a greater abundance of oligomers, and higher light absorption. Prolonged photoaging promotes fragmentation and the formation of more volatile and less light-absorbing products. More than half of the initial aqSOA mass is lost and substantial photobleaching occurs after 10.5 hours of prolonged aging under simulated sunlight illumination for 3C*-aqSOA and 48 hours for •OH-aqSOA. By performing positive matrix factorization (PMF) analysis of the combined HR-AMS and UV-vis spectral data, we resolved three generations of aqSOA with distinctly different chemical and optical properties. The first-generation aqSOA shows significant oligomer formation and enhanced light absorption at 340–400 nm. The second-generation aqSOA is enriched in functionalized GA species, while the third-generation aqSOA contains more fragmented products and is the least light-absorbing. Although photoaging generally increases the oxidation of aqSOA, a slightly decreased O / C of the •OH-aqSOA is observed after 48 hours of prolonged photoaging with additional •OH exposure. This is likely due to greater fragmentation and evaporation of highly oxidized compounds. Increased oxidant concentration accelerates the transformation of aqSOA and promotes the decay of brown carbon (BrC) chromophores, leading to faster mass reduction and photobleaching. In addition, compared with •OH, photoaging by 3C* produces more low-volatility functionalized products, which counterbalances part of the aqSOA mass loss due to fragmentation and evaporation.

Wenqing Jiang et al.

Status: open (until 27 Apr 2023)

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Wenqing Jiang et al.


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Short summary
Aqueous-phase aging can affect the composition and properties of secondary organic aerosol (SOA). Our photochemical aging experiments of phenolic aqSOA show that fragmentation and evaporation of volatile products dominate the aqSOA aging, leading to significant loss of aqSOA mass and photobleaching. Elevated oxidant concentration can accelerate the evolution of the aqSOA during photoaging.