Elemental ratio measurements of organic compounds using aerosol mass spectrometry: characterization, improved calibration, and implications Journal Article uri icon



  • Abstract. 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 (OSC) 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 H2O+ 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 H2O+, CO+, and CO2+ fragments in the high-resolution mass spectra of the standard compounds indicates that the Aiken-Ambient method underestimates the CO+ and H2O+ 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 OSC values calculated for ambient OA by the two methods agree well, however (average relative difference of 0.06 OSC units). This indicates that OSC is a more robust metric of oxidation than O : C, likely since OSC is not affected by hydration or dehydration, either in the atmosphere or during analysis.;

publication date

  • July 31, 2014

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • December 8, 2014 12:14 PM

Full Author List

  • Canagaratna MR; Jimenez JL; Kroll JH; Chen Q; Kessler SH; Massoli P; Hildebrandt Ruiz L; Fortner E; Williams LR; Wilson KR

author count

  • 14

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