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Compound-Specific Radiocarbon Analysis of Low Molecular Weight Dicarboxylic Acids in Ambient Aerosols Using Preparative Gas Chromatography: Method Development

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journal contribution
posted on 08.01.2021, 14:04 by Buqing Xu, Zhineng Cheng, Örjan Gustafsson, Kimitaka Kawamura, Biao Jin, Sanyuan Zhu, Tiangang Tang, Bolong Zhang, Jun Li, Gan Zhang
Low molecular weight dicarboxylic acids constitute a large fraction of atmospheric organic aerosols, which impact atmospheric radiative forcing and hence Earth’s climate. Radiocarbon (14C) is a unique approach to unambiguously distinguishing the relative contributions of biomass-derived and fossil sources. Here, we developed a compound-specific radiocarbon analysis (CSRA) method for individual dicarboxylic acids in atmospheric particulates. Specifically, the method starts with a dibutyl ester derivatization technique, followed by separation and harvesting of single compounds employing a preparative capillary gas chromatography in sufficient amounts for offline 14C measurement with accelerator mass spectrometry. The optimized preparative steps yielded recoveries of >60% and purities of >99% for target molecules. The radiocarbon isotope compositions determined for reference standards taken through the entire method agree well with the original composition of each standard (R2 = 0.9998). The applicability of the approach was demonstrated with ambient aerosol samples representing contrasting air mass regimes. This yielded two radically different yet system-consistent precursor sources. A minimum size of 50 μg of C of ambient dicarboxylic acids is needed for credible 14C measurement. The established method for CSRA of dicarboxylic acids demonstrates a new analytical dimension for studies of the source and evolution of atmospheric secondary organic aerosols.