Articles | Volume 7, issue 11
Research article
06 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 06 Nov 2014

Direct aerosol chemical composition measurements to evaluate the physicochemical differences between controlled sea spray aerosol generation schemes

D. B. Collins, D. F. Zhao, M. J. Ruppel, O. Laskina, J. R. Grandquist, R. L. Modini, M. D. Stokes, L. M. Russell, T. H. Bertram, V. H. Grassian, G. B. Deane, and K. A. Prather

Abstract. Controlled laboratory studies of the physical and chemical properties of sea spray aerosol (SSA) must be under-pinned by a physically and chemically accurate representation of the bubble-mediated production of nascent SSA particles. Bubble bursting is sensitive to the physico-chemical properties of seawater. For a sample of seawater, any important differences in the SSA production mechanism are projected into the composition of the aerosol particles produced. Using direct chemical measurements of SSA at the single-particle level, this study presents an intercomparison of three laboratory-based, bubble-mediated SSA production schemes: gas forced through submerged sintered glass filters ("frits"), a pulsed plunging-waterfall apparatus, and breaking waves in a wave channel filled with natural seawater. The size-resolved chemical composition of SSA particles produced by breaking waves is more similar to particles produced by the plunging waterfall than those produced by sintered glass filters. Aerosol generated by disintegrating foam produced by sintered glass filters contained a larger fraction of organic-enriched particles and a different size-resolved elemental composition, especially in the 0.8–2 μm dry diameter range. Interestingly, chemical differences between the methods only emerged when the particles were chemically analyzed at the single-particle level as a function of size; averaging the elemental composition of all particles across all sizes masked the differences between the SSA samples. When dried, SSA generated by the sintered glass filters had the highest fraction of particles with spherical morphology compared to the more cubic structure expected for pure NaCl particles produced when the particle contains relatively little organic carbon. In addition to an intercomparison of three SSA production methods, the role of the episodic or "pulsed" nature of the waterfall method on SSA composition was under-taken. In organic-enriched seawater, the continuous operation of the plunging waterfall resulted in the accumulation of surface foam and an over-expression of organic matter in SSA particles compared to those produced by a pulsed plunging waterfall. Throughout this set of experiments, comparative differences in the SSA number size distribution were coincident with differences in aerosol particle composition, indicating that the production mechanism of SSA exerts important controls on both the physical and chemical properties of the resulting aerosol with respect to both the internal and external mixing state of particles. This study provides insight into the inextricable physicochemical differences between each of the bubble-mediated SSA generation mechanisms tested and the aerosol particles that they produce, and also serves as a guideline for future laboratory studies of SSA particles.

Short summary
Sea spray aerosol particles represent a system of relatively high chemical complexity. The chemical composition of sea spray aerosol particles was shown in this study to be directly determined by the method used to produce bubbles, which produce aerosol upon bursting at the sea surface. Using methods which deviate from natural breaking waves directly translated into differences in the measured particle sizes and the chemical mixing state of laboratory-generated sea spray aerosol particles.