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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 12 Oct 2018

Research article | 12 Oct 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Estimation of atmospheric total organic carbon (TOC) – paving the path towards carbon budget closure

Mingxi Yang1 and Zoë L. Fleming2,a Mingxi Yang and Zoë L. Fleming
  • 1Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, United Kingdom
  • 2National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), Department of Chemistry, University of Leicester, UK, United Kingdom
  • anow at: Center for Climate and Resilience Research (CR2), Departamento de Geofísica, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile

Abstract. The atmosphere contains a rich variety of reactive organic compounds, including gaseous volatile organic carbon (VOCs), carbonaceous aerosols, and other organic compounds at varying volatility. Here we present measurements of atmospheric non-methane total organic carbon plus carbon monoxide (TOC+CO) during August-September 2016 from a coastal city in the southwest United Kingdom. TOC+CO was substantially elevated during the day on weekdays (occasionally over 2ppmC) as a result of local anthropogenic activity. On weekends and holidays, with a mean (standard error) of 102 (8)ppbC, TOC+CO was lower and showed much less diurnal variability. Excluding weekday daytime, TOC+CO was significantly lower when winds were coming off the Atlantic Ocean than when winds were coming off land. By subtracting the estimated CO from TOC+CO, we constrain the mean (uncertainty) TOC in marine air to be around 19 (±≥8)ppbC during this period. A proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometer (PTR-MS) was deployed at the same time, detecting a large range of organic compounds (oxygenated VOCs, biogenic VOCs, aromatics, dimethyl sulfide). The total speciated VOCs from the PTR-MS, denoted here as Sum(VOC), amounted to a mean (uncertainty) of 11(±≤3)ppbC in marine air. We assess the possible contributions from a number of known organic compounds present in marine air that were not detected by the PTR-MS. Future concurrent measurements of TOC, CO, and a more comprehensive range of speciated VOCs would enable a better characterization and understanding of atmospheric organic carbon budget.

Mingxi Yang and Zoë L. Fleming
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Mingxi Yang and Zoë L. Fleming
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The atmosphere contains thousands of different organic compounds but the quantification of their total burden has been a technical challenge. This hinders our understanding in atmospheric chemistry, air pollution, and global carbon cycling. Here we present a novel and robust method to measure total atmospheric organic carbon. By comparing the total organic carbon concentration in marine air to the sum of speciated organic measurements, we aim estimate the pool of undetected organic species.
The atmosphere contains thousands of different organic compounds but the quantification of their...