Articles | Volume 8, issue 8
Research article
31 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 31 Aug 2015

Detailed characterizations of the new Mines Douai comparative reactivity method instrument via laboratory experiments and modeling

V. Michoud, R. F. Hansen, N. Locoge, P. S. Stevens, and S. Dusanter

Abstract. The hydroxyl (OH) radical is an important oxidant in the troposphere, which controls the lifetime of most air quality- and climate-related trace gases. However, there are still uncertainties concerning its atmospheric budget, and integrated measurements of OH sinks have been valuable to improve this aspect. Among the analytical tools used for measuring total OH reactivity in ambient air, the comparative reactivity method (CRM) is spreading rapidly in the atmospheric community. However, measurement artifacts have been highlighted for this technique, and additional work is needed to fully characterize them.

In this study, we present the new Mines Douai CRM instrument, with an emphasis on the corrections that need to be applied to ambient measurements of total OH reactivity. Measurement artifacts identified in the literature have been investigated, including (1) a correction for a change in relative humidity between the measurement steps leading to different OH levels, (2) the formation of spurious OH in the sampling reactor when hydroperoxy radicals (HO2) react with nitrogen monoxide (NO), (3) not operating the CRM under pseudo-first-order kinetics, and (4) the dilution of ambient air inside the reactor. The dependences of these artifacts on various measurable parameters, such as the pyrrole-to-OH ratio and the bimolecular reaction rate constants of ambient trace gases with OH, have also been studied. Based on these observations, parameterizations are proposed to correct ambient OH reactivity measurements. On average, corrections of 5.2 ± 3.2, 9.2 ± 15.7, and 8.5 ± 5.8 s−1 were respectively observed for (1), (2) and (3) during a field campaign performed in Dunkirk, France (summer 2014).

Numerical simulations have been performed using a box model to check whether experimental observations mentioned above are consistent with our understanding of the chemistry occurring in the CRM reactor. Two different chemical mechanisms have been shown to reproduce the magnitude of corrections (2) and (3). In addition, these simulations reproduce their dependences on the pyrrole-to-OH ratio and on bimolecular reaction rate constants of gases reacting with OH. The good agreement found between laboratory experiments and model simulations gives us confidence in the proposed parameterizations. However, it is worth noting that the numerical values given in this study are suitable for the Mines Douai instrument and may not be appropriate for other CRM instruments. It is recommended that each group characterize its own instrument following the recommendations given in this study.

An assessment of performances for the Mines Douai instrument, including a propagation of errors from the different corrections, indicates a limit of detection of 3.0 s−1 and total uncertainties of 17–25 % for OH reactivity values higher than 15 s−1 and NOx mixing ratios lower than 30 ppbv.

Short summary
This study presents the results of an exhaustive characterization of a CRM instrument developed at Mines Douai to measure total OH reactivity in the troposphere. To do so, a suite of laboratory experiments was conducted to assess the different corrections that need to be applied during data processing. The results were then compared to simulations from a 0-D box model, including two different chemical mechanisms, leading to reasonable agreement.