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Published July 29, 2009 | Published
Journal Article Open

The formation, properties and impact of secondary organic aerosol: current and emerging issues


Secondary organic aerosol (SOA) accounts for a significant fraction of ambient tropospheric aerosol and a detailed knowledge of the formation, properties and transformation of SOA is therefore required to evaluate its impact on atmospheric processes, climate and human health. The chemical and physical processes associated with SOA formation are complex and varied, and, despite considerable progress in recent years, a quantitative and predictive understanding of SOA formation does not exist and therefore represents a major research challenge in atmospheric science. This review begins with an update on the current state of knowledge on the global SOA budget and is followed by an overview of the atmospheric degradation mechanisms for SOA precursors, gas-particle partitioning theory and the analytical techniques used to determine the chemical composition of SOA. A survey of recent laboratory, field and modeling studies is also presented. The following topical and emerging issues are highlighted and discussed in detail: molecular characterization of biogenic SOA constituents, condensed phase reactions and oligomerization, the interaction of atmospheric organic components with sulfuric acid, the chemical and photochemical processing of organics in the atmospheric aqueous phase, aerosol formation from real plant emissions, interaction of atmospheric organic components with water, thermodynamics and mixtures in atmospheric models. Finally, the major challenges ahead in laboratory, field and modeling studies of SOA are discussed and recommendations for future research directions are proposed.

Additional Information

© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Received: 20 November 2008 – Published in Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss.: 3 February 2009. Revised: 10 June 2009 – Accepted: 11 June 2009 – Published: 29 July 2009. This review is the result of presentations and discussions during the joint VOCBAS-INTROP conference on Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds: Sources and Fates in a Changing World. The authors would like to thank M. Staudt and his colleagues at the Centre for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology in Montpellier, France, for hosting the event. Financial support from the European Science Foundation INTROP programme is gratefully acknowledged. The authors would also like to acknowledge funding received from; the European Commission (EUROCHAMP, RII3-CT-2004-505968; EUCAARI, 036833-2; POLYSOA, 12709; Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship to R.S.); European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP); the Swedish Research Council Formas (contract 214-2006-1204); Science Foundation Ireland; the Swiss National Science Foundation; the Israel Science Foundation (grants 1527/07 and 196/08) and the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation; Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BIOSOL project); the Fund for Scientific Research – Flanders (FWO); DOE BER/ASP (DEFG0208ER64627); the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (contract AQ0704); NOAA OGP (NA08OAR4310565); US EPA (STAR R833746, RD-83374901); DOE (DEFG02-05ER63983); US National Science Foundation (ATM-0703914).

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