Kinetics of the nitrate-mediated photooxidation of monocarboxylic acids in the aqueous phase

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-471
Number of pages11
Journal / PublicationEnvironmental Sciences: Processes and Impacts
Issue number3
Online published26 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023



The photooxidation of organic compounds by hydroxyl radicals (·OH) in atmospheric aqueous phases contributes to both the formation and aging of secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), which usually include carboxylic acids. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and inorganic nitrate are two important ·OH photochemical sources in atmospheric aqueous phases. The aqueous phase pH is an important factor that not only controls the dissociation of carboxylic acids and consequently their ·OH reactivities, but also the production of ·OH and other reactive species from the photolysis of some ·OH photochemical precursors, particularly inorganic nitrate. While many studies have reported on the aqueous pH-dependent photodegradation rates of carboxylic acids with ·OH produced by H2O2 photolysis, the aqueous pH-dependent photodegradation rates of carboxylic acids with ·OH produced by inorganic nitrate photolysis have not been studied. In this work, we investigated the pH-dependent (pH 2 to 7) aqueous photooxidation of formic acid (FA), glycolic acid (GA), and pyruvic acid (PA) initiated by the photolysis of ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3). The observed reaction rates of the three carboxylic acids were controlled by the [NH4NO3]/[carboxylic acid] concentration ratio. Higher [NH4NO3]/[carboxylic acid] concentration ratios resulted in faster photodegradation rates, which could be attributed to the higher concentrations of ·OH produced from the photolysis of higher concentrations of NH4NO3. In addition, the observed photodegradation rates of the three carboxylic acids strongly depended on the pH. The highest photodegradation rate was observed at pH 4 for FA, whereas the highest photodegradation rates were observed at pH 2 for GA and PA. The observed pH-dependent FA and GA photodegradation rates were due to the combined effects of the pH-dependent ·OH formation from NH4NO3 photolysis and the differences in ·OH reactivities of dissociated vs. undissociated FA and GA. In contrast, the observed pH-dependent PA photodegradation rate was due primarily to the pH-dependent decarboxylation of PA initiated by light. These results highlight how the aqueous phase pH and inorganic nitrate photolysis can combine to influence the degradation rates of carboxylic acids, which can have significant implications for how the atmospheric fates of carboxylic acids are modeled for regions with substantial concentrations of inorganic nitrate in cloud water and aqueous aerosols. © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2023

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