Unexpected Oligomerization of Small α‑Dicarbonyls for Secondary Organic Aerosol and Brown Carbon Formation
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Large amounts of small α-dicarbonyls (glyoxal and methylglyoxal) are produced in the atmosphere from photochemical oxidation of biogenic isoprene and anthropogenic aromatics, but the fundamental mechanisms leading to secondary organic aerosol (SOA) and brown carbon (BrC) formation remain elusive. Methylglyoxal is commonly believed to be less reactive than glyoxal because of unreactive methyl substitution, and available laboratory measurements showed negligible aerosol growth from methylglyoxal. Herein, we present experimental results to demonstrate striking oligomerization of small α-dicarbonyls leading to SOA and BrC formation on sub-micrometer aerosols. Significantly more efficient growth and browning of aerosols occur upon exposure to methylglyoxal than glyoxal under atmospherically relevant concentrations and in the absence/presence of gas-phase ammonia and formaldehyde, and nonvolatile oligomers and light-absorbing nitrogen-heterocycles are identified as the dominant particle-phase products. The distinct aerosol growth and light absorption are attributed to carbenium ion-mediated nucleophilic addition, interfacial electric field-induced attraction, and synergetic oligomerization involving organic/inorganic species, leading to surface- or volume-limited reactions that are dependent on the reactivity and gaseous concentrations. Our findings resolve an outstanding discrepancy concerning the multiphase chemistry of small α-dicarbonyls and unravel a new avenue for SOA and BrC formation from atmospherically abundant, ubiquitous carbonyls and ammonia/ammonium sulfate.
author list (cited authors)
Li, Y., Ji, Y., Zhao, J., Wang, Y., Shi, Q., Peng, J., ... Zhang, R.