Articles | Volume 7, issue 10
Research article
28 Oct 2014
Research article |  | 28 Oct 2014

Measurements of diurnal variations and eddy covariance (EC) fluxes of glyoxal in the tropical marine boundary layer: description of the Fast LED-CE-DOAS instrument

S. Coburn, I. Ortega, R. Thalman, B. Blomquist, C. W. Fairall, and R. Volkamer

Abstract. Here we present first eddy covariance (EC) measurements of fluxes of glyoxal, the smallest α-dicarbonyl product of hydrocarbon oxidation, and a precursor for secondary organic aerosol (SOA). The unique physical and chemical properties of glyoxal – i.e., high solubility in water (effective Henry's law constant, KH = 4.2 × 105 M atm−1) and short atmospheric lifetime (~2 h at solar noon) – make it a unique indicator species for organic carbon oxidation in the marine atmosphere. Previous reports of elevated glyoxal over oceans remain unexplained by atmospheric models. Here we describe a Fast Light-Emitting Diode Cavity-Enhanced Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy (Fast LED-CE-DOAS) instrument to measure diurnal variations and EC fluxes of glyoxal and inform about its unknown sources. The fast in situ sensor is described, and first results are presented from a cruise deployment over the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (20° N to 10° S; 133 to 85° W) as part of the Tropical Ocean tRoposphere Exchange of Reactive halogens and Oxygenated VOCs (TORERO) field experiment (January to March 2012). The Fast LED-CE-DOAS is a multispectral sensor that selectively and simultaneously measures glyoxal (CHOCHO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), oxygen dimers (O4), and water vapor (H2O) with ~2 Hz time resolution (Nyquist frequency ~1 Hz) and a precision of ~40 pptv Hz−0.5 for glyoxal. The instrument is demonstrated to be a "white-noise" sensor suitable for EC flux measurements. Fluxes of glyoxal are calculated, along with fluxes of NO2, H2O, and O4, which are used to aid the interpretation of the glyoxal fluxes. Further, highly sensitive and inherently calibrated glyoxal measurements are obtained from temporal averaging of data (e.g., detection limit smaller than 2.5 pptv in an hour). The campaign average mixing ratio in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) is found to be 43 ± 9 pptv glyoxal, which is higher than the Northern Hemisphere (NH) average of 32 ± 6 pptv (error reflects variability over multiple days). The diurnal variation of glyoxal in the marine boundary layer (MBL) is measured for the first time, and mixing ratios vary by ~8 pptv (NH) and ~12 pptv (SH) over the course of 24 h. Consistently, maxima are observed at sunrise (NH: 35 ± 5 pptv; SH: 47 ± 7 pptv), and minima at dusk (NH: 27 ± 5 pptv; SH: 35 ± 8 pptv). In both hemispheres, the daytime flux was directed from the atmosphere into the ocean, indicating that the ocean is a net sink for glyoxal during the day. After sunset the ocean was a source for glyoxal to the atmosphere (positive flux) in the SH; this primary ocean source was operative throughout the night. In the NH, the nighttime flux was positive only shortly after sunset and negative during most of the night. Positive EC fluxes of soluble glyoxal over oceans indicate the presence of an ocean surface organic microlayer (SML) and locate a glyoxal source within the SML. The origin of most atmospheric glyoxal, and possibly other oxygenated hydrocarbons over tropical oceans, remains unexplained and warrants further investigation.