A simplified description of the evolution of organic aerosol composition in the atmosphere



[1] Organic aerosol (OA) in the atmosphere consists of a multitude of organic species which are either directly emitted or the products of a variety of chemical reactions. This complexity challenges our ability to explicitly characterize the chemical composition of these particles. We find that the bulk composition of OA from a variety of environments (laboratory and field) occupies a narrow range in the space of a Van Krevelen diagram (H:C versus O:C), characterized by a slope of ∼−1. The data show that atmospheric aging, involving processes such as volatilization, oxidation, mixing of air masses or condensation of further products, is consistent with movement along this line, producing a more oxidized aerosol. This finding has implications for our understanding of the evolution of atmospheric OA and representation of these processes in models.