Measuring the atmospheric organic aerosol volatility distribution: a theoretical analysis
Abstract. Organic compounds represent a significant fraction of submicrometer atmospheric aerosol mass. Even if most of these compounds are semi-volatile in atmospheric concentrations, the ambient organic aerosol volatility is quite uncertain. The most common volatility measurement method relies on the use of a thermodenuder (TD). The aerosol passes through a heated tube where its more volatile components evaporate, leaving the less volatile components behind in the particulate phase. The typical result of a thermodenuder measurement is the mass fraction remaining (MFR), which depends, among other factors, on the organic aerosol (OA) vaporization enthalpy and the accommodation coefficient. We use a new method combining forward modeling, introduction of "experimental" error, and inverse modeling with error minimization for the interpretation of TD measurements. The OA volatility distribution, its effective vaporization enthalpy, the mass accommodation coefficient and the corresponding uncertainty ranges are calculated. Our results indicate that existing TD-based approaches quite often cannot estimate reliably the OA volatility distribution, leading to large uncertainties, since there are many different combinations of the three properties that can lead to similar thermograms. We propose an improved experimental approach combining TD and isothermal dilution measurements. We evaluate this experimental approach using the same model, and show that it is suitable for studies of OA volatility in the lab and the field.