Articles | Volume 3, issue 4
23 Jul 2010
 | 23 Jul 2010

A comparison of GC-FID and PTR-MS toluene measurements in ambient air under conditions of enhanced monoterpene loading

J. L. Ambrose, K. Haase, R. S. Russo, Y. Zhou, M. L. White, E. K. Frinak, C. Jordan, H. R. Mayne, R. Talbot, and B. C. Sive

Abstract. Toluene was measured using both a gas chromatographic system (GC), with a flame ionization detector (FID), and a proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometer (PTR-MS) at the AIRMAP atmospheric monitoring station Thompson Farm (THF) in rural Durham, NH during the summer of 2004. Simultaneous measurements of monoterpenes, including α- and β-pinene, camphene, Δ 3-carene, and d-limonene, by GC-FID demonstrated large enhancements in monoterpene mixing ratios relative to toluene, with median and maximum enhancement ratios of ~2 and ~30, respectively. A detailed comparison between the GC-FID and PTR-MS toluene measurements was conducted to test the specificity of PTR-MS for atmospheric toluene measurements under conditions often dominated by biogenic emissions. We derived quantitative estimates of potential interferences in the PTR-MS toluene measurements related to sampling and analysis of monoterpenes, including fragmentation of the monoterpenes and some of their primary carbonyl oxidation products via reactions with H3O+, O2+ and NO+ in the PTR-MS drift tube. The PTR-MS and GC-FID toluene measurements were in good quantitative agreement and the two systems tracked one another well from the instrumental limits of detection to maximum mixing ratios of ~0.5 ppbv. A correlation plot of the PTR-MS versus GC-FID toluene measurements was described by the least squares regression equation y=(1.13± 0.02)x−(0.008±0.003) ppbv, suggesting a small ~13% positive bias in the PTR-MS measurements. The bias corresponded with a ~0.055 ppbv difference at the highest measured toluene level. The two systems agreed quantitatively within the combined 1σ measurement precisions for 60% of the measurements. Discrepancies in the measured mixing ratios were not well correlated with enhancements in the monoterpenes. Better quantitative agreement between the two systems was obtained by correcting the PTR-MS measurements for contributions from monoterpene fragmentation in the PTR-MS drift tube; however, the improvement was minor (<10%). Interferences in the PTR-MS measurements from fragmentation of the monoterpene oxidation products pinonaldehyde, caronaldehyde and α-pinene oxide were also likely negligible. A relatively large and variable toluene background in the PTR-MS instrument likely drove the measurement bias; however, the precise contribution was difficult to accurately quantify and thus was not corrected for in this analysis. The results from THF suggest that toluene can be reliably quantified by PTR-MS using our operating conditions (drift tube pressure, temperature and voltage of 2.0 mbar, 45 °C and 600 V, respectively) under the ambient compositions probed. This work extends the range of field conditions under which PTR-MS validation studies have been conducted.