Insights into atmospheric oxidation processes by performing factor analyses on subranges of mass spectra


Our understanding of atmospheric oxidation chemistry has improved significantly in recent years, greatly facilitated by developments in mass spectrometry. The generated mass spectra typically contain vast amounts of information on atmospheric sources and processes, but the identification and quantification of these is hampered by the wealth of data to analyze. The implementation of factor analysis techniques have greatly facilitated this analysis, yet many atmospheric processes still remain poorly understood. Here, we present new insights into highly oxygenated products from monoterpene oxidation, measured by chemical ionization mass spectrometry, at a boreal forest site in Finland in autumn 2016. Our primary focus was on the formation of accretion products, i.e., dimers. We identified the formation of daytime dimers, with a diurnal peak at noontime, despite high nitric oxide (NO) concentrations typically expected to inhibit dimer formation. These dimers may play an important role in new particle formation events that are often observed in the forest. In addition, dimers identified as combined products of NO3 and O-3 oxidation of monoterpenes were also found to be a large source of low-volatility vapors at night. This highlights the complexity of atmospheric oxidation chemistry and the need for future laboratory studies on multi-oxidant systems. These two processes could not have been separated without the new analysis approach deployed in our study, where we applied binned positive matrix factorization (binPMF) on subranges of the mass spectra rather than the traditional approach where the entire mass spectrum is included for PMF analysis. In addition to the main findings listed above, several other benefits compared to traditional methods were found.