Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
Research article
26 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 26 Jan 2017

An improved, automated whole air sampler and gas chromatography mass spectrometry analysis system for volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere

Brian M. Lerner, Jessica B. Gilman, Kenneth C. Aikin, Elliot L. Atlas, Paul D. Goldan, Martin Graus, Roger Hendershot, Gabriel A. Isaacman-VanWertz, Abigail Koss, William C. Kuster, Richard A. Lueb, Richard J. McLaughlin, Jeff Peischl, Donna Sueper, Thomas B. Ryerson, Travis W. Tokarek, Carsten Warneke, Bin Yuan, and Joost A. de Gouw

Abstract. Volatile organic compounds were quantified during two aircraft-based field campaigns using highly automated, whole air samplers with expedited post-flight analysis via a new custom-built, field-deployable gas chromatography–mass spectrometry instrument. During flight, air samples were pressurized with a stainless steel bellows compressor into electropolished stainless steel canisters. The air samples were analyzed using a novel gas chromatograph system designed specifically for field use which eliminates the need for liquid nitrogen. Instead, a Stirling cooler is used for cryogenic sample pre-concentration at temperatures as low as −165 °C. The analysis system was fully automated on a 20 min cycle to allow for unattended processing of an entire flight of 72 sample canisters within 30 h, thereby reducing typical sample residence times in the canisters to less than 3 days. The new analytical system is capable of quantifying a wide suite of C2 to C10 organic compounds at part-per-trillion sensitivity. This paper describes the sampling and analysis systems, along with the data analysis procedures which include a new peak-fitting software package for rapid chromatographic data reduction. Instrument sensitivities, uncertainties and system artifacts are presented for 35 trace gas species in canister samples. Comparisons of reported mixing ratios from each field campaign with measurements from other instruments are also presented.

Short summary
Whole air sampling followed by analysis by gas chromatography is a common technique for characterization of trace volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere. We describe a new automated gas chromatograph–mass spectrograph which uses a Stirling cooler for sample preconcentration at −165 °C without the need for a cryogen such as liquid nitrogen. We also discuss potential sources of artifacts from our electropolished stainless steel sampling system and present results from two field campaigns.