Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2016

Broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectroscopy in the ultraviolet spectral region for measurements of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde

R. A. Washenfelder, A. R. Attwood, J. M. Flores, K. J. Zarzana, Y. Rudich, and S. S. Brown

Abstract. Formaldehyde (CH2O) is the most abundant aldehyde in the atmosphere, and it strongly affects photochemistry through its photolysis. We describe simultaneous measurements of CH2O and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) using broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectroscopy in the ultraviolet spectral region. The light source consists of a continuous-wave diode laser focused into a Xenon bulb to produce a plasma that emits high-intensity, broadband light. The plasma discharge is optically filtered and coupled into a 1 m optical cavity. The reflectivity of the cavity mirrors is 0.99930 ± 0.00003 (1− reflectivity  =  700 ppm loss) at 338 nm, as determined from the known Rayleigh scattering of He and zero air. This mirror reflectivity corresponds to an effective path length of 1.43 km within the 1 m cell. We measure the cavity output over the 315–350 nm spectral region using a grating monochromator and charge-coupled device array detector. We use published reference spectra with spectral fitting software to simultaneously retrieve CH2O and NO2 concentrations. Independent measurements of NO2 standard additions by broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectroscopy and cavity ring-down spectroscopy agree within 2 % (slope for linear fit  = 1.02 ± 0.03 with r2 = 0.998). Standard additions of CH2O measured by broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectroscopy and calculated based on flow dilution are also well correlated, with r2 = 0.9998. During constant mixed additions of NO2 and CH2O, the 30 s measurement precisions (1σ) of the current configuration were 140 and 210 pptv, respectively. The current 1 min detection limit for extinction measurements at 315–350 nm provides sufficient sensitivity for measurement of trace gases in laboratory experiments and ground-based field experiments. Additionally, the instrument provides highly accurate, spectroscopically based trace gas detection that may complement higher precision techniques based on non-absolute detection methods. In addition to trace gases, this approach will be appropriate for measurements of aerosol extinction in ambient air, and this spectral region is important for characterizing the strong ultraviolet absorption by brown carbon aerosol.

Short summary
Formaldehyde is the most abundant aldehyde in the atmosphere and plays an important role in photochemistry. Broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectroscopy uses a high finesse cavity to obtain effective path lengths of kilometers. We use a diode-pumped plasma lamp and custom cavity mirrors to extend this technique further into the ultraviolet spectral region, and we achieve detection limits of hundreds of parts per trillion in 1 min for formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide.