Non-linear partitioning and organic volatility distributions of urban aerosols
Gas-to-particle partitioning of organic aerosols (OA) is represented in most models by Raoult's law, and depends on the existing mass of particles into which organic gases can dissolve. This raises the possibility of non-linear response of particle-phase OA mass to the emissions of precursor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to this partitioning mass. Implications for air quality management are evident: a strong non-linear dependence would suggest that reductions in VOC emission would have a more-than-proportionate benefit in lowering ambient OA concentrations. Chamber measurements on simple VOC mixtures generally confirm the non-linear scaling between OA and VOCs, usually stated as a mass-dependence of the measured OA yields. However, for realistic ambient conditions including urban settings, no single component dominates the composition of the organic particles, and deviations from linearity are presumed to be small. Here we re-examine the linearity question using volatility spectra from several sources: (1) chamber studies of selected aerosols, (2) volatility inferred for aerosols sampled in two megacities, Mexico City and Paris, and (3) an explicit chemistry model (GECKO-A). These few available volatility distributions suggest that urban OA may be only slightly super-linear, with most values of the normalized sensitivity exponent in the range 1.1–1.3, also substantially lower than seen in chambers for some specific aerosols. The rather low exponents suggest that OA concentrations in megacities are not an inevitable convergence of non-linear effects, but can be addressed (much like in smaller urban areas) by proportionate reductions in emissions.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Chemistry in the Urban Atmosphere