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Influence of Relative Humidity on the Heterogeneous Oxidation of Secondary Organic Aerosol

Cite this dataset

Cappa, Christopher; Li, Ziyue; Smith, Katherine (2018). Influence of Relative Humidity on the Heterogeneous Oxidation of Secondary Organic Aerosol [Dataset]. Dryad.


This dataset contains data from figures and model code used to generate figures in the paper "Influence of Relative Humidity on the Heterogeneous Oxidation of Secondary Organic Aerosol" by Li et al., published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. A description of the work follows below. See read me files for details.

Secondary organic aerosol (SOA) is a complex mixture of hundreds of semi‑volatile to extremely low‑volatility organic compounds that are chemically processed in the atmosphere, including via heterogeneous oxidation by gas‑phase radicals. Relative humidity (RH) has a substantial impact on particle phase, which can affect how SOA evolves in the atmosphere. In this study, SOA from dark a-pinene ozonolysis is heterogeneously aged by OH radicals in a flowtube at low and high RH. At high RH (RH = 89%) there is substantial loss of particle volume (~60%) at an equivalent atmospheric OH exposure of 3 weeks. In contrast, at low RH (RH = 25%) there is little mass loss (<20%) at the same OH exposure. Mass spectra of the SOA particles were measured as a function of OH exposure using a vacuum ultraviolet aerosol mass spectrometer (VUV‑AMS). The mass spectra observed at low RH overall exhibit minor changes with oxidation and negligible further changes above an OH exposure = 2 x 1012 molecule cm‑3 s, suggesting limited impact of oxidation on the particle composition. In contrast, the mass spectra observed at high RH exhibit substantial and continuous changes as a function of OH exposure. Further, at high RH clusters of peaks in the mass spectra exhibit unique decay patterns, suggesting different responses of various species to oxidation. A model of heterogeneous oxidation has been developed to understand the origin of the difference in aging between the low and high RH experiments. Differences in diffusivity of the SOA between the low and high RH experiments alone can explain the difference in compositional change but cannot explain the difference in mass loss. Instead, the difference in mass loss is attributable to RH‑dependent differences in the OH uptake coefficient and/or the net probability of fragmentation, with either or both larger at high RH compared to low RH. These results illustrate the important impact of relative humidity on the fate of SOA in the atmosphere.


Data were collected at the Advanced Light Source, Berkeley, CA in May 2017 at Beamline 9.0.2. 

In the experiments here, SOA is formed initially under dry conditions and these SOA particles are then heterogeneously oxidized by OH at either a low or high RH. Four aspects are highlighted: SOA formation, RH control, heterogeneous oxidation and SOA measurements. SOA particles were first produced chemically in one flow tube under dry conditions (the SOA formation flow tube). The airstream was then humidified to the desired level, and the SOA particles were reacted heterogeneously with OH radicals in a second flow tube (the OH flow tube). The size distribution and chemical composition of the particles were then characterized. The size distribution was characterized with a scanning mobility particle sizer and the chemical composition monitored with the vacuum ultraviolet aerosol mass spectrometer. 

Model calculations were performed using Igor (Wavemetrics) v6.37. 

Usage notes

The files here are derived from figures in the manuscript "Influence of Relative Humidity on the Heterogeneous Oxidation of Secondary Organic Aerosol" published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. More details are provided in the two read me files. One describes the observational data and one the model code. 


National Science Foundation, Award: ATM-1151062

United States Department of Energy, Award: DE-AC02- 05CH1123