Secondary organic aerosols formed from oxidation of biogenic volatile organic compounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California

Thomas Cahill, Vincent Y. Seaman, M. Judith Charles, Rupert Holzinger, Allen H. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Biogenic volatile organic compound (BVOC) emissions, such as isoprene and terpenes, can be oxidized to form less volatile carbonyls, acids, and multifunctional oxygenated products that may condense to form secondary organic aerosols (SOA). This research was designed to assess the contribution of oxidized BVOC emissions to SOA in coniferous forests by collecting high-volume particulate samples for 6 days and 5 nights in the summer of 2003. The samples were analyzed for acids, carbonyls, polyols and alkanes to quantify oxidized BVOCs. Terpene and isoprene oxidation products were among the most abundant chemical species detected with the exception of hexadecanoic acid, octadecanoic acid and two butyl esters of unknown origin. The terpene oxidation products of pinonic acid, pinic acid, nopinone and pinonaldehyde showed clear diurnal cycles with concentrations two- to eight-fold higher at night. These cycles resulted from the diurnal cycles in gaseous terpene concentrations and lower temperatures that enhanced condensation of semivolatile chemicals onto aerosols. The terpene-derived compounds averaged 157 ± 118 ng/m3 of particulate organic matter while the isoprene oxidation compounds, namely the 2-methyltetrols and 2-methylglyceric acid, accounted for 53 ± 19 ng/m3. Together, the terpene and isoprene oxidation products represented 36.9% of the identified organic mass of 490 ± 95 ng/m3. PM10 organic matter loadings in the region were approximately 2.1 ± 1.2 μg/m3, so about 23% of the organic matter was identified and at least 8.6% was oxidized BVOCs. The BVOC oxidation products we measured were significant, but not dominant, contributors to the regional SOA only 75 km downwind of the Sacramento urban area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD16312
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 27 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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