Isotopic characterization of aerosol organic carbon components over the eastern United States

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Abstract

Carbon isotopic signatures (delta C-13, Delta C-14) of aerosol particulate matter total organic carbon (TOC) and operationally defined organic carbon (OC) components were measured in samples from two background sites in the eastern U. S. TOC and water-soluble OC (WSOC) delta C-13 values (-27 to -24 parts per thousand) indicated predominantly terrestrial C-3 plant and fossil derived sources. Total solvent extracts (TSE) and their aliphatic, aromatic, and polar OC components were depleted in delta C-13 (-30 to -26 parts per thousand) relative to TOC and WSOC. Delta C-14 signatures of aerosol TOC and TSE (-476 to +25 parts per thousand) suggest variable fossil contributions (similar to 5-50%) to these components. Aliphatic OC while comprising a small portion of the TOC (<1%), was dominated by fossil-derived carbon (86 +/- 3%), indicating its potential utility as a tracer for fossil aerosol OC inputs. In contrast, aromatic OC contributions (<1.5%) contained approximately equal portions contemporary (52 +/- 8%) and fossil (48 +/- 8%) OC. The quantitatively significant polar OC fraction (6-25% of TOC) had fossil contributions (30 +/- 12%) similar to TOC (26 +/- 7%) and TSE (28 +/- 9%). Thus, much of both of the fossil and contemporary OC is deduced to be oxidized, polar material. Aerosol WSOC consistently showed low fossil content (<8%) relative to the TOC (5-50%) indicating that the majority of fossil OC in aerosol particulates is insoluble. Therefore, on the basis of solubility and polarity, aerosols are predicted to partition differently once deposited to watersheds, and these chemically distinct components are predicted to contribute in quantitatively and qualitatively different ways to watershed carbon biogeochemistry and cycling.