On The Importance of Organic Oxygen for Understanding Organic Aerosol Particles

Publication Type

Journal Article




This study shows how aerosol organic oxygen data could provide new and independent information about organic aerosol mass, aqueous solubility of organic aerosols, formation of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) and the relative contributions of anthropogenic and biogenic sources. For more than two decades atmospheric aerosol organic mass concentration has usually been estimated by multiplying the measured carbon content by an assumed organic mass (OM)-to-organic carbon (OC ) factor of 1.4. However, this factor can vary from 1.0 to 2.5 depending on location. This great uncertainty about aerosol organic mass limits our understanding of the influence of organic aerosol on climate, visibility and health.New examination of organic aerosol speciation data shows that the oxygen content is the key factor responsible for the observed range in the OM-to-OC factor. When organic oxygen content is excluded, the ratio of non-oxygen organic mass to carbon mass varies very little across different environments (1.12 to 1.14). The non-oxygen-OM-to-non-oxygen OC factor for all studied sites (urban and non-urban) is 1.13± 0.02. The uncertainty becomes an order of magnitude smaller than the uncertainty in the best current estimates of organic mass to organic carbon ratios (1.6± 0.2 for urban and 2.1± 0.2 for non-urban areas). When aerosol organic oxygen data become available, organic aerosol mass can be quite accurately estimated using just OC and organic oxygen (OO) without the need to know whether the aerosol is fresh or aged. In addition, aerosol organic oxygen data will aid prediction of water solubility since compounds with OO-to-OC higher than 0.4 have water solubilities higher than 1g per 100 g water.


Aerosol Science and Technology



Year of Publication





0278-6826 (Print); 1521-7388 (Online)


Research Areas