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Comprehensive Molecular Characterization of Atmospheric Brown Carbon by High Resolution Mass Spectrometry with Electrospray and Atmospheric Pressure Photoionization

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posted on 08.10.2018, 00:00 by Peng Lin, Lauren T. Fleming, Sergey A. Nizkorodov, Julia Laskin, Alexander Laskin
Light-absorbing components of atmospheric organic aerosols, which are collectively termed “brown carbon” (BrC), are ubiquitous in the atmosphere. They affect absorption of solar radiation by aerosols in the atmosphere and human health as some of them have been identified as potential toxins. Understanding the sources, formation, atmospheric evolution, and environmental effects of BrC requires molecular identification and characterization of light-absorption properties of BrC chromophores. Identification of BrC components is challenging due to the complexity of atmospheric aerosols. In this study, we employ two complementary ionization techniques, atmospheric pressure photo ionization (APPI) and electrospray ionization (ESI), to obtain broad coverage of both polar and nonpolar BrC components using high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). These techniques are combined with chromatographic separation of BrC compounds with high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), characterization of their light absorption with a photodiode array (PDA) detector, and chemical composition with HRMS. We demonstrate that this approach enables more comprehensive characterization of BrC in biomass burning organic aerosols (BBOAs) emitted from test burns of sage brush biofuel. In particular, we found that nonpolar BrC chromophores such as PAHs are only detected using positive mode APPI. Meanwhile, negative mode ESI results in detection of polar compounds such as nitroaromatics, aromatic acids, and phenols. For the BrC material examined in this study, over 40% of the solvent-extractable BrC light absorption is attributed to water insoluble, nonpolar to semipolar compounds such as PAHs and their derivatives, which require APPI for their identification. In contrast, the polar, water-soluble BrC compounds, which are detected in ESI, account for less than 30% of light absorption by BrC.

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