Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) has a pronounced effect on our climate, and exposure to PM causes negative health outcomes and elevated mortality rates in urban populations. Reactions that occur in fog can form new secondary organic aerosol material from gas-phase species or primary organic aerosols. It is important to understand these reactions, as well as how organic material is scavenged and deposited, so that climate and health effects can be fully assessed. Stable carbon isotopes have been used widely in studying gas- and particle-phase atmospheric chemistry. However, the processing of organic matter by fog has not yet been studied, even though stable isotopes can be used to track all aspects of atmospheric processing, from particle formation, particle scavenging, reactions that form secondary organic aerosol material, and particle deposition. Here, carbon isotope analysis is used for the first time to assess the processing of carbonaceous particles by fog.
This work first compares carbon isotope measurements (δ13C) of particulate matter and fog from locations across the globe to assess how different primary aerosol sources are reflected in the atmosphere. Three field campaigns are then discussed that highlight different aspects of PM formation, composition, and processing. In Tempe, AZ, seasonal and size-dependent differences in the δ13C of total carbon and n-alkanes in PM were studied. δ13C was influenced by seasonal trends, including inversion, transport, population density, and photochemical activity. Variations in δ13C among particle size fractions were caused by sources that generate particles in different size modes.
An analysis of PM from urban and suburban sites in northeastern France shows how both fog and rain can cause measurable changes in the δ13C of PM. The δ13C of PM was consistent over time when no weather events occurred, but particles were isotopically depleted by up to 1.1‰ in the presence of fog due to preferential scavenging of larger isotopically enriched particles. Finally, the δ13C of the dissolved organic carbon in fog collected on the coast of Southern California is discussed. Here, temporal depletion of the δ13C of fog by up to 1.2‰ demonstrates its use in observing the scavenging and deposition of organic PM.